Archive for the ‘Australia’ Category

Life is a Party!

October 24, 2009

I spent the last 11 days on a group trip from Surfers Paradise to Cairns organized by Connections Adventure Travel. The company is specialized in adventure travel for people aged between 18 and 39. It was about 33 of us (from all over the world, ie England, Germany, Austria, Ireland, Norway, US, Canada plus two Australian guides) who travelled the 2,500km from the Gold Coast to Cairns on a bus called “Matilda”. It was great having an opportunity to meet so many new people and getting to know them really well in a short time thanks to long hours on the bus and even more hours spent in the pubs and bars (at times it felt like the group had turned into a nocturnal species!). Once again it was proven that travelling is all about the journey and not the destination! Everyone had a great time and it was no surprise that a few tears were shed when it was time to say goodbye this morning! The weather was also great during the trip and it was a relief to go back to shorts and T-shirt.

My personal highlight of the trip was the 2 night sailing adventure in the Whitsunday Islands aboard the British Defender. British Defender is a high tech Whitbread Around The World Racing Maxi that was raced by the British Armed Services during the 1989/90 Around The World Race. When I first saw the yacht (83ft long) I could not believe it was possible to squeeze so many people on it. But over the next 2 days I figured out that life on a yacht is great despite a tiny bunkbed and limited facilities. Actually while we were sailing I completely lost track of time (even more so than during the rest of the year!) and I also had a feeling of total freedom. Our sailing trip was off to a bad start though and there were suspicions that someone had braught bananas on board. First, one of the crew members (french canadian trainee) dislocated his shoulder and it was so bad that we had to turn around so he could go to the hospital. Later, one of the sails got damaged and could not be used anymore. From then on however it was smooth sailing. For most of us it was the first time on a yacht and hence there were some nervous faces the first time the boat was inclined (not sure this is proper sailing language…). Once we got used to it though, we could not get enough and just wanted to sail faster and faster. They almost had to kick us off the yacht at the end of the trip. So sailing was great and some of the beaches we got to see were simply beyond belief. These must be some of the most beautiful beaches in the world (but unfortunately also some of the most photographed)! Finally, it was the great crew of the British Defender that really made a difference. They were genuinely nice, spoilt us with some of the  best food of the trip (despite a tiny kitchen!) and gave us some very useful lessons in sign language (big fucking shark anyone?).

My other favorite was the day we spent in the Great Barrier Reef. Actually, I had no idea how large the GBR is – over 2000km! The 2 hours boat ride to get there was a torture since many of us fell sick thanks to the rough sea. However, once we got there all the pain was forgotten. Snorkelling and diving around the reefs make you feel like being on a different planet. The colours and varieties are stunning and thankfully the part of the reef we saw still seemed in very good condition. It was the perfect location for my first scuba diving experience and so I spent about 30 minutes under water with an instructor. If you follow the basics (just keep breathing normally, equalize ear pressure) and get taken by the hand, scuba diving seems like a pretty easy thing to do. We did not go much deeper than 4-5 meters but it was enough to spot some amazing creatures and definitely showed me the underwater world from a different angle (compared to snorkelling). Also, my instructor allowed me to touch a number of things such as the giant clam, a sea cucumber and some of the corals. As much as I appreciated the experience, water will never be my preferred element and hence I dont think I will become a serious scuba diver anytime soon.

During the trip we also stopped in Rockhampton (the beef capital of Queensland) and spent the night at a Rodeo event. I must say these cowboys are pretty courageous (or crazy?) to sit on these wild beasts and not surprisingly minor or major injuries are quite common. We also got a taste of how friendly the locals are around Rockhampton as some from our group got invited to a private residence with free flowing alcohol and a swimming pool. And as we all know the combination of lots of alcohol and the presence of a swimming pool inevitably lead to a minor or major pool party. Well, our youngsters even topped this with some balcony climbing back at the hotel after the pool party was over… Another stop on the way to Cairns was in Undara (it is considered to be part of the accessible outback) where we did some bushwalking, wildlife spotting (kangaroos, bats), got a fantastic bush brekkie in the morning and heard many stories of all the dangerous animals that live out here. While we spent only a couple of hours in Undara, it was enough to realize that this is a totally different breed that is living out here.

Anyway, after spending so much time travelling along the coast of Australia I am now ready for a change and will be flying to Southern New Zealand in a couple of days and hopefully go back to a more active lifestyle (of course I am talking about day time!).

Airlie Beach Party Night

Party time in Airlie Beach

Fraser Island

Fraser Island

British Defender

British Defender, our home for 2 nights

Champagne Sailing

Champagne sailing

Near Whiteheaven Beach

Near Whiteheaven, incredible…

Sunset Undara

Sunset in Undara

Great Barrier Reef

Our snorkelling/diving site in the Great Barrier Reef

Aborigines

A new tribe of English-Swiss Aborigines

A (chilly) Australian Spring

October 13, 2009

Some of you must be wondering what I have been up to in the last couple of weeks. Well, I briefly stopped in Singapore/Phuket then continued to Sydney and have been enjoying the Australian spring ever since. Amazingly there are no signs of an economic crisis in this part of the world. In Singapore there are still more construction sites than in any other place I have been in the last 12 months and locals are back in their favorite activity of real estate speculation. Australia on the other hand is probably the only major country in the world that has not been in recession since the crisis started and hence it is no surprise that no one is bothered by it down under. The Aussie real estate market has also sprung back to life, albeit for different reasons than in Singapore (supply-demand imbalance, population growth) and the Central Bank has just raised interest rates to avoid a speculative bubble. Real estate prices in Australia have been going in one direction only for the last 25 years and are now among the highest in the world.

Anyway, after spending quite a bit of time in Australia on business trips it is actually nice to be down here and have time to explore the country. Sydney remains one of my top spots in the world and every time I come down here I get that warm and fuzzy feeling. It is a small city with a spectacular setting , there is a very diverse restaurant scene and nightlife (Pure Platinum, Rodney!), some of the top beaches are very close to the city (my favorites are Manly and Bondi), the climate allows for a great outdoor lifestyle and finally people are relaxed and have a great sense of humour. The only downside is that the cost of living is high because of the real estate prices (as mentioned above) and the high taxes (not just income but also alcohol, cars etc).  But I guess if you want a piece of paradise it comes at a cost…! Oh, and the other interesting thing is that this is the only place in the world where I can watch a sports channel and have no clue about what is going on (cricket, footie, netball anyone?)

 Luckily, I have made some friends in Sydney over the past couple of years and it was great catching up with them.  Particularly enjoyed staying with Lindsay and Richard (we met in Peru earlier this year) in Manly. They showed me where to get the best pizza and boobs combo, inspired me to do the Manly Scenic Walk (highly recommended) and we had some good laughs about our travel experiences in Peru. Ups, almost forgot to mention that I happened to be in Sydney during the dust storm. It was surreal and felt like the end of the world was approaching (plus I could not stop coughing)…

After a couple of days in Sydney I was off to Adelaide a pleasantly laid back city with roughly 1 million inhabitants. The city itself is nothing to write home about but the beauty is that beaches and wineries are very close. So I spent some time in the beach resorts of Victor Harbor and Glenelg and also took a ferry to Kangaroo Island. Now, KI is a very special place. It’s a pretty big island (150km from one end to the other) with only 4,000 inhabitants but plenty of wildlife and spectacular coastline. In fact, the place really reminded me of the Galapagos… Kangaroos, koalas, sealions, penguins, whales, dolphins and all kinds of birds. Too bad the weather was not very good (very cold!), otherwise I would have spent more time there. The flipside of the coin though was that I got to spend more time at the wineries! And I did quite a bit of tasting in Barrossa Valley and McLaren Vale (plus later in Coonawarra). While still not a wine expert, my general impression was that the whole wine production is very commercially oriented (ie made to drink not to age) and it was difficult to find some nice boutique wineries (but thanks to Daphne I did!). Also, while the quality of the wines is of high standard it was difficult to find something exceptional or outstanding. My favorites are Langmeil (Fifth Wave Grenache, Freedom Shiraz), Fox Creek (Shiraz!), Rymill (Cabernet Sauvignon), Bowen Estate (Shiraz/Cabernet) and Redman (Cabernet-Merlot). Because of my travels, I had limited capacity for any cases but still managed to snap up a bottle each of Langmeil and Redman. Thanks to the flexible BYO policy of local restaurants we could enjoy them with a nice dinner (wish we had a BYO policy in Europe)!

Before turning into a wine addict I hit the road again. This time with my cousine Melanie who had flown in from Perth.  We were planning to do the  Great Ocean Road,  a beautiful stretch of coast between Adelaide and Melbourne. It is famous for some beautiful limestone formations just off the coast (most prominently the 12 Apostels). They really are magnificent but so are the lovely coastal towns like Port Fairy and Apollo Beach. We also managed to do some whale watching at Logan Beach (from the shores!) and spent 2 days in the Grampians National Park where some stunningly beautiful mountains rise out of nowhere.

I am currently in Melbourne and heading to the Gold Coast tomorrow. Melbourne used to be the world’s richest city during the gold rush of the 1850’s (there is no gold rush currently despite record high prices – somehow everyone is into real estate here too) and it is still a very nice place (apparently voted as the world’s most liveable city). Again, I like the compact size, the bustling alleys, the many green parks and when walking along Lygon Street I really felt like walking on Italien territory…

Anyway, that’s it for now. I shall keep you posted more regularly again on the coming adventures…

Sydney sunset

On a day like this, this is the best place on earth!

Manly Scenic Walk

Manly Scenic Walk

Kangaroo Island

Kangaroo Island

Penola Rainbow

Even mixed weather has its advantages (Penola)

Coonawarra Winetasting

Winetasting at Ryemill in Coonawarra

Southern Grampians

The Southern Grampians

12 Apostels

12 Apostels (in black and white)

Brunchtime in Melbourne

Brunchtime in Melbourne