AUSTRALIA & NEW ZEALAND


   In keeping with what I've done for the past few years, I've decided to
write up a travelogue about my recent trip to Australia and New Zealand. 
This is as much for me as it is for the reader, but I hope that through
these pages, you will find some interesting and informative information, and
enjoy the narrative.
   This is for a trip taken December 1996 --> January 1997.  Prices quoted,
unless otherwise indicated, are in the currency of the country being talked
about (either Australian or New Zealand dollars).  As always, the opinions
are mine, and any information is subject to change.



   It had been almost two years since I took a real trip (to Thailand,
Cambodia, Macau, and Hong Kong in the spring of 1995) and I had been wanting
to take another one for quite some time.  Due to work, I wasn't able to take
any time off during the summer except for a short one-week family trip to
Hawaii in August, so when my calendar for December and January looked pretty
empty, I jumped at the chance.
   At first, I thought I'd go to Malaysia and Singapore -- a smaller trip
that I had been thinking about for some time.  But four things changed my
mind: (1) My sister's in-laws (who live in Malaysia) would be in Hong Kong
at the time, (2) Almost all flights to Malaysia and Singapore were sold out
of the cheaper fares, (3) While I eventually want to visit Malaysia and
Singapore, there were other places I wanted to see more, and (4) I suddenly
realized what a large chunk of free time I actually had available for a
trip -- at least a month.  Suddenly, I knew where I wanted to go --
   The problem was, I didn't decide on Australia until literally the day
before the deadline required for the "cheap" advance-purchase seats.  So,
with LA Times in hand, I set out calling one bucket-shop after another for
the best airfare.  The problem was, the Christmas holiday season is the
busiest time for travel to that part of the world, and all the prices were
in the $1300-$1400 range -- and often, sold out.  The next day, I had to
work (at Sony Pictures), so taking the paper with me, I woke up extra early
in order to get to work with enough time to make some calls beforehand.  I
did so, and found a place that offered a round-trip on United for about
$1000.  I asked the agent to hold a reservation for me, but it wasn't until
she told me that the deadline for buying the ticket was that day, that I
realized how late it actually was.  During work, I ran out frantically on
each hourly 10-minute break to make more quick calls, but by lunchtime, I
had decided to go with it, buy the ticket, and go to Australia.


   Everything was fine up until the day before my trip.  I didn't have any
work that I'd miss when I bought my ticket (though right before I left, a
week's worth of plum work came in that I'd have to miss -- those are the
breaks), but the day before I was to leave, I did something stupid --
without looking, I stepped on the center of my belt-buckle, with the center
facing straight up.  Like stepping on a nail, it gouged my right foot pretty
bad, right in the center.  The wound was deep, and it hurt like hell.  I
couldn't walk, and the doctor had to give me a tetnus shot (since it had
been almost 10 years since my last one).  I didn't know what I was going to
do.  I had a $1000 non-refundable ticket, had everything planned, and didn't
want to cancel the trip I was to start the very next day.
   When I tried to wear my normal Reebok shoes, the arch of the shoe would
press against the sore area.  Just on a whim though, a few days before, I
bought a pair of nice hiking boots from REI that I was debating whether or
not to take.  And on these boots, the soles were removable.  So the next
day, I removed the soles, hobbled to the local drug store, bought some
Scholls insoles, took a scissors, cut a hole around where the sore area
would press against, and slipped them in.  Somehow, it worked.  While it
still hurt a little, I could walk -- somewhat -- though I couldn't walk
normally (stretching the foot while walking).  I had to walk in a strict
up-down motion.
   Wondering just HOW I was going to do the trip in this condition (since my
trips usually involve lots of walking), I set off for the airport that night
for the 10:00pm flight.


   I would never have taken United Airlines had they not been the lowest
fare I could get. We've had plenty of trouble with them before on numerous
occasions where they didn't keep their word, and they seem to have the worst
service and attitude of any of the major airlines.  So why should this trip
be any different?  It wasn't.  As always, United lied, and now won't keep
their word.
   Before going, I called United numerous times to make sure that the other
flight segments for my trip (using Ansett Airlines -- a United partner
airline), within Australia and New Zealand, would count towards my frequent
flyer miles.  The United agents assured me each time that the segments would
count -- both for Australia and New Zealand.  One of them even took the time
to go through my entire trip, adding up all the miles for my flight segments
and rental cars, assuring me yet again of the total miles I would earn.
   Of course, everything I was told turned out to be a total lie.  I didn't
find out until after I arrived in Australia that United would honor only 70%
of the miles flown on Ansett within Australia, and would honor NONE of the
miles flown on Ansett within New Zealand unless it was within 24hrs of an
arriving United flight from the States.
   Complaining to United is useless because it's your word against theirs.
The funny thing is, with all the problems we've had with United in the past,
I actually thought about taping the conversations with the agents, but
wrongly figured since FOUR different agents gave me the same information, it
was probably accurate.
   DON'T TAKE UNITED unless you feel comfortable around con artists and
bait-and-switch operators.  That is, unless you like an airline where: the
stewardesses actually YELL at the passangers to the point of harassment,
demanding money from a mother because her young son has plugged in his OWN
headset to watch the movie (see my Hawaii report), an airline that forced my
dad to pay almost $700 or cancel his flight when he showed up at the airport
for a trip to Flordia using the frequent-flyer miles my sister gave him as a
gift (ALLOWED under their rules, but the airport attendant wouldn't accept
it, and repeated letters to United's head office have yielded only rude
brush-off replies), cancelled flights (a trip to San Fransisco in August was
cancelled, and United never notified anyone.  If I hadn't called the night
before to make sure everything was OK, I'd have shown up at the airport and
had no flight -- and I literally had to YELL at a supervisor to get taken
off the cancelled flight and placed on another one.  Unbelievable!) or an
airline where the agents will go through your trip and tell you how many
miles you'll be receiving, and then find out after you go that everything
FOUR separate agents told you in the U.S. was a complete lie.
   I suppose with all the problems United has given us, I shouldn't have
taken them, but they were the cheapest available, and getting the frequent
flyer mileage isn't, I suppose, all that important in the grand scheme of
things.  Still, it really peeves me when a company like United never stands
by their word, time and time again.  I'm relating these incidents to you to
warn those of you out there to avoid the "friendly" skies.  United isn't a
good operation to trust your travel to.  Next time, I'll just pay the extra
few dollars and take another carrier -- ANY other carrier but United.


   Knowing how United is, I wasn't the least bit surprised that the 10:00pm
departure time was delayed an hour.  Why?  Because one of the passengers
needed an oxygen tank, and no one on board could figure out where to put it.
(I was later told by a Red Cross volunteer that there is a special place on
each plane, and everyone who works on the aircraft is supposed to know where
it is).  Typical United.  It took them a full hour until they could figure
it out.
   Making things even more interesting was taking United on the return
flight back to the U.S. from Sydney.  Out on the RUNWAY, the pilot stopped,
and announced that something wasn't right with the plane.  We sat in our
seats for an hour while we watched maintenance crews drive up in jeeps and
check the plane out.  An hour later, the pilot said he was satisfied, and we
took off.  Upon arriving in LA, we were told that the rest of the flight
(which was to continue onto Chicago) was cancelled.  Whether it was due to
weather (as they claimed) or aircraft problems, I don't know, but they had
no problem putting people on other flights to Chicago...


   Within an hour before landing, there's an announcement that the plane
will be landing in Australia soon, and the stewardesses will be coming
through and spraying the plane with insecticide -- and, if you wish, cover
your mouth.  This is apparently required by Australian customs in order to
keep foreign insects and bugs out of an isolated ecosystem.  Still, it's an
interesting sight to see the stewardesses coming through the aisles,
spraying.  As well, when you arrive in both Australia and New Zealand, there
are trash bins to dump any animal product, produce, or food you have with
you.  These items are no-nos.


   The flight arrived at 8:00am (an hour later than scheduled) and after
going through customs, I was ready to start exploring Sydney.  I was lucky
that my foot started to feel much better on the plane, so by the time I was
in Australia, with the help of the cut insoles, I found I could actually
walk almost normally.
   The first thing I did was check into where I'd be staying that night -- a
large, budget "hotel" called The CB Private Hotel.  "Hotels" in Australia
are a bit different than those in the U.S.  In old times, very few places
were licensed to sell alcohol, but "hotels" were.  So a place that wanted to
serve alcohol would become a "hotel" in name (even if it was obviously just
a pub), and would have a few rooms available in order to make it an offical
"hotel", regardless of whether anyone actually stayed there or not.  Even
today, you can find cheap places to stay for the night over the hotel/pubs
(in "hotel" rooms), though they're often quite noisy.  The CB Private Hotel
though, isn't a pub, but a large, old building that was once the largest
hotel in Sydney.  You get a tiny private room (shared bath) for $40 a
night.  While the CB Private Hotel wasn't bad, the George Street Private
Hotel (in the same neighborhood) was much better (at $32 a night).  It was
full on the day I arrived, though I stayed there at the end of the trip.
   In the lobby of the CB Private Hotel was a small, automated Internet
kiosk.  You put in A$2 for a few minutes of internet access.  At first, I
thought this was a great idea, but soon found out how useless it was.  The
only thing the kiosk would let you do is create a NEW temporary email
account for yourself while you're in Australia.  It would NOT do what most
people really want to be able to do -- telnet into their EXISTING email
accounts at home to check the mail in their real accounts.  While the kiosks
were pretty useless, I did wander by a few public internet businesses in
Australia and New Zealand.  In Dunedin (New Zealand) I walked past a sign
that said "public internet access inside and down the stairs" so I decided
to check it out.  Sure enough, there was a little room with computers, where
for just a couple of dollars, you could telnet home and check your email. 
The connection was fast, and it was there in Dunedin where I first caught up
on my email.  Later, in Adelaide (Australia), I saw a similar place. 
However, when I sat down to telnet, the connection was so unbelievably slow,
it literally took 2 minutes to have 10 characters appear on the screen. 
Just to read one email would have taken -- literally -- an hour.  After 15
minutes, I gave up, dropped carrier, and listened while the owner explained
that the lines to the U.S. were always clogged.  Well... New Zealand didn't
seem to have a problem.  I can only hope that the other internet providers
in Australia are better.  If it took 15 minutes to get just one line of
text, imagine the download time for Netscape or Internet Explorer!
   After setting my bag down at the CB Hotel (located at the edge of
Chinatown), and trying the useless Internet kiosk in the lobby, I set off to
explore Sydney by foot.
   Chinatown is located in the southern part of downtown Sydney, so I just
started walking north, towards Circular Quay (pronounced "Circular Key"),
where the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge are.
   Sydney is a very walkable city.  It's clean, bright, and safe.  It's also
quite easy to walk the entire downtown area in a short amount of time, and
the surrounding areas are also quite accessible by foot.
   Heading north, the first thing I did was to visit the Sydney Tower, where
you get a great view of the city.  As I boarded the elevator ("lift") to the
observation deck, the lady told me "My, you have quite a strong accent! 
Where are you from?"  Obviously, to her, I had an accent, but you never
think that YOU might have an accent -- it's always someone ELSE who has the
accent, and it made me stop and think for a minute.  Ironically, I don't
know if it was because the accent is different in Tasmania, or my accent
changed (I don't think it did), but towards the end of the trip, while
filling up with petrol in a small town (Oatlands) in Tasmania, the service
station attendant there asked me where I was from.  When I said America, he
said "I wasn't sure... your accent isn't as strong as most Americans... I
couldn't tell."  Hmmm.
   At any rate, the view from the Sydney Tower is excellent.  You can see
the entire city and its environs spread out before you.  I only wish there
was an outside deck (like the New York World Trade Center), but still, I
quite enjoyed the view from the top.
   Even from the top of the Sydney Tower though, I couldn't make out where
the Olympics would be held in the year 2000.  One of the staff pointed out
the general direction to me, but they'll actually be held outside the city. 
Sydney lobbied hard to get the Olympics for 2000, and you can feel Olympic
fever in the air.  Museums are sprucing up displays, new construction is
going on, and everything is set to be finished by 2000.  The postal code for
Sydney, by the way, just happens to be 2000 ("Sydney 2000"), so the city
adopted this coincidence as their Olympic slogan.

   Upon returning back down, I continued walking north, passing some of
Sydney's historic old buildings.  When I passed the state Parliament House
(for New South Wales), I stopped in to see if they gave tours.  They did.
During the course of my trip, I actually stopped at three different state
parliament houses: New South Wales/Sydney, Victoria/Melbourne, and South
Australia/Adelaide.  The English style of government is used (Australia is
still a commonwealth of England, though one of the issues in the news while
I was there was the opposition trying to force the current Prime Minister to
keep his campaign promise and discuss the "Republican" issue -- about the
possibility of making Australia an independent Republic, free from the UK. 
Most Australians I spoke to on the matter seemed to feel that Australia
would indeed become a Republic in time, though many thought it would still
be some years off).
   The National government is in Canberra (a self-contained city made for
the national government, much like Washington DC).  I didn't visit Canberra,
but still got a good feel for Australian politics by visiting the three
State Parliaments and hearing the guides fill my head with the issues of the
day, and the little idosyncracies of Australian politics.
   Some observations: there are two Houses (Upper and Lower).  The
"Government" sits on one side of each house, while the "Opposition" sits on
the other.  Everyone likes to yell a lot.  While in chambers, a member can
call another member anything he wants to (thief, murderer, arsonist --
anything) and cannot be sued for libel as long as it took place within
chambers.  The average salary for a base member (not on any committees) is
around A$70,000 (US$56,000) a year, however, they're only in session for
part of the year, and even when they're in session, they only meet three
days a week.
   Sydney has a nice, large Botanical Garden.  In the middle of it is a
glass pyramid, inside of which are samples of the various plants found in
Australia's rainforests.  The garden itself is quite large, and divided into
many different sections.  The Conservatorium of Music is located at the edge
of the Garden.
   Reaching Circular Quay (the wharf area), I immediately went to the Opera
House, where I was informed that there were no more tours operating that day
(all the theatres were in use for rehersals or concerts).  However, I was
told that there would be tours on the last day of my trip, so I put off the
Opera House until then.
   Close by, and stretching over the harbor, is Sydney's Harbour Bridge. 
I've always loved bridges (and walking them), so I headed in the bridge's
general direction, trying to find the entrance to it.  Heading towards it,
you pass through a trendy little area called "The Rocks", made up mostly of
small shops and cafes.
   Walking the Harbour Bridge is a nice way to spend some time.  Besides
being a great way to cool off on a hot day, you get some fantastic views of
the harbor and downtown Sydney.  Also, inside one of the Bridge's towers, is
a museum about the construction of the bridge and a lookout at the top of
the tower.  As you climb up to the top, you can see pictures, and even a
video on the bridge being built, as well as other items concerning the
Bridge, Sydney, and Australia.
   It was also on the Bridge where I had my first taste of what would be my
favorite drink in Australia.  (Anyone who has read my reports before knows
that I get hooked on good fruit sodas).  A Coke machine on the bridge had a
selection called "Deep Spring Orange/Lemon/Lime Sparkling Mineral Water."  I
was hooked immediately.  Throughout Australia and New Zealand, I tried to
sample all the different Deep Spring flavors (at least 8), from my favorite
(Orange-Lemon-Lime), to Orange-Mango, and Apple-Passionfruit.  More than any
other drink, when I was really thirsty, this would hit the spot.  Instead of
normal carbonated water, the mineral water gave it a much cleaner taste. 
It's the best brand of fizzy drink there is in Australia.  (People use the
word "fizzy" instead of "carbonated", so if you want a lemon soda, you'd ask
for a "fizzy lemonade").
   An interesting bit of trivia is that the soda cans appear to be the same
size as U.S. cans, however, in the U.S., you get 355ml in each can of soda.
In Australia, you get 375ml.  (For some reason, in New Zealand, it was a bit
less, though still more than 355ml).  The price of drinks was a bit high
though.  In the vending machines, the price ranged from A$1.20 - A$1.80 for
a can of soda, depending on where you were (in the outback, or at a tourist
spot, the price would be more).  Typically, the range was A$1.30 - A$1.40
(US$1.04-US$1.12) for a can of soda.  I guess the hardest thing to believe
was that such a great drink as Deep Spring came not from a small Australian
company, but from giant Coca-Cola.  Now, if I can only get them to sell the
stuff here...

   If you walk, drive, or take the subway across the Harbour Bridge, you
arrive in North Sydney, where a lot of people who work in Sydney live.  One
of the things I wanted to do was walk the bridge in one direction, then take
the Sydney -> Manly ferry the other direction (Manly is a popular beach on
the north side of Sydney, and there are ferries that run between Manly and
Circular Quay in Sydney).  However, even though I was on the "north side"
after walking the bridge, Manly was still quite far away.  So, I caught a
local bus going that general direction, (later transferring to another bus
in order to get to Manly), and really enjoyed the trip.  It gave me a good
view of suburban Sydney life, and as we got closer to Manly, the
neighborhoods became more and more beautiful and (I'm sure) expensive.  The
Newport Beach of Sydney, it looked like -- not so much from the size of the
homes (no mansions), but in how beautifully well kept-up they were.
   Manly itself is nothing special, but it's a nice beach many Sydney
residents like to frequent.  I didn't go swimming (by this time, I had
walked a lot of miles without sleep), but just strolled around a bit, bought
a hat for the outback, then took the ferry back to downtown Sydney.  There
are some great views of the Harbour and the Opera House from the ferry.
   Upon docking at Circular Quay, instead of walking back to the
Haymarket/Chinatown area (where the hotel was), I thought I'd try out the
local subway system.  Though there was no station stop right at the hotel,
there were two within 10 minute's walk from the hotel.  The fares are
reasonable (A$1.60 for anywhere in the downtown area), and the subway cars
themsevles are interesting -- the first "double-decker" subway cars I've
ever seen.  As you enter the car, you can either go on the upper deck, or
the lower deck.  In rush-hour commutes, this gives you twice the number of
seats you'd have with a normal car, and after spending more than my fair
share of time in the packed New York City subways, I realized what a great
idea this was.
   That evening, I stopped for dinner at a nearby Chinese restaurant which
was anything but good.  Called the "Minh Hai" restaurant, I suggest people
avoid the place.  Besides the food being bad and fatty, they have a $1.00
charge just to get tap water.  Luckily, it was the only bad restaurant
experience I had in Australia.


   Before I left, I bought two special "air pass" tickets: one on Ansett,
and one on Qantas.  They both offer the same general deal to foreigners
visiting Australia: flights cost either US$140 or US$172 depending on the
distance.  However, you must book at least the first two segments for each
pass before you arrive in Australia, though you can add more segments (up to
10 per pass) later on.  (By buying both an Ansett and Qantas pass, you can
have up to 20 total segments).
   It's a good idea for anyone visiting Australia and planning to fly
(necessary due to the vast distances, unless you have unlimited time to see
the country), to get an airpass from BOTH Ansett and Qantas before you
leave.  This means you must book 4 flights before you arrive in Australia
(two each for Qantas and Ansett), but it will give you much greater
flexibility once you arrive.
   There are only a certain number of seats available on each flight at the
foreigner price, and if, say, all the Ansett flights are full, if you have a
Qantas pass, you can then try Qantas.  This happened quite a lot during my
trip.  Because I was travelling during the peak travel season (school
vacation for Australia and New Zealand, plus winter break for the Northern
Hemisphere), invariably, certain flights would be full on one airline, but
the other airline would still have some seats left.  You also have a much
better selection of flight times and routings, having both airlines to
choose from.  For instance, I wanted to fly direct from Brisbane to Auckland
(New Zealand).  Qantas offered the routing, but not Ansett.  Yet Ansett
usually has more flights than Qantas, in general.  Also note that you can
get these fares for travel both within and between the countries of
Australia and New Zealand.
   The funny thing about the airline industry in that part of the world is
that now, everyone seems to own at least part of everyone else.  There are
four major airlines: Qantas, Ansett Australia, Ansett New Zealand, and Air
New Zealand, and all four companies seem to own at least part of each
other.  My Qantas flight from Christchurch (NZ) to Melbourne was actually
operated by Air New Zealand (on Air New Zealand aircraft).  Fares (for
locals) are quite high in the region, probably because even though there are
four separate companies, they all seem to have a stake in each other.
   One last note is that in general, the service aboard Ansett and Qantas is
quite good.  Unlike the U.S., (and reflective of Australia in general), the
service on board is warm and friendly both inflight, and on the ground. 
More than once, I wanted to get on an earlier, or different flight on which
all the economy seats were filled.  I was ready to pay the higher fare, and
each time the ground staff smiled and let me get on without asking for the
fee.  Even when I needed to change the routing on my Qantas ticket, (there's
a $50 fee only if you change the cities once ticketing has been done), the
agent smiled and said "well, there's supposed to be a $50 change fee, but
don't worry about it."  Can you imagine that on United?  And inflight, the
service was just as good.  The meals weren't fancy, but were more than
adequate, and truthfully, quite tasty.  I suppose the high prices (for
non-foreigners) make this possible, but I should also point out that both
Qantas and Ansett, as of Jan 1997, have a perfect safety record, with no
crashes for either airline.  They're about the only major airlines in the
world with a safety record like that.  Finally, here's a bit of trivia:
Qantas originally stood for: Queensland And Northern Territory Aerial


   With just a few hours of sleep, I had to be at the Sydney airport early
the next morning to catch my flight to Alice Springs, the main town in
central Australia.  During this flight, there are some fantastic views from
the airline window.  The desert below is filled with mountains, red dirt,
and hundreds of white salt flats.  If I had the time, it would have been
interesting to drive from Sydney to Alice Springs, but I think a lot of the
great desert views you see from the plane aren't visible from the main road
through the outback (Stuart Highway).
   While on the Ansett flight, they showed the Tom Hanks movie "That Thing
You Do", a movie that I actually played on the soundtrack for, though most
of the time, I was staring out the window.  When I asked the stewardess for
some "fizzy lemonade" instead of coffee or tea, she looked at me a bit
startled, and said, "so early in the morning?" but cheerfully brought me
some anyway.

   Upon arriving at Alice Springs, I rented a car for a week from Budget, to
first drive around central Australia, then take the Stuart Highway north...


   In Australia, you drive on the left side of the street, and sit on the
right side of the car.  A lot of Americans complain about how difficult it
is to drive this way, but I had no problems at all.  (As a helpful reminder
to visiting Americans probably, there are plenty of "KEEP LEFT" signs posted
all over Australia).  The only small detail that took me a few hours to get
used to was the placement of the turn indicator and wiper controls on
right-drive vehicles.  On American cars, the turn-indicator lever is on the
left, with the windshield wiper lever on the right.  On right-drive
vehicles, it's just the opposite.  For the first few hours, everytime I
wanted to signal for a lane change, my wipers would go on!  Soon though, one
gets used to this too, and driving on the left was a lot of fun, and never a

   Before I left the States, I made a reservation at Budget to rent the
smallest automatic car they had for one week, picking up in Alice Springs,
and returning in Darwin.  I wanted a car to drive around the outback, and
then drive north to the top of Australia.  When I arrived though, I was told
that there were no small cars available.  Two had recently been in
accidents, and the only car they had for me was a large, full-size Ford
Falcon (similar in size to a Chevy Caprice).  At first, I didn't mind the
instant upgrade (they didn't charge me for it), but once I saw how expensive
petrol was in the outback (A$.99 a litre, or US$3 for one U.S. Gallon), I
realized how expensive the car would be -- especially when driving at
130kph-140kph (80-90mph), as the outback has no speed limit.  (When there's
miles and miles of nothing but desert, even driving 140kph seems slow).
   After visiting Ayers Rock and Kings Canyon, but before starting the drive
north, I called Budget to see if any smaller (and more fuel-efficient) cars
had come in, and indeed one had.  So I stopped in at the Alice Springs city
location and traded the large Ford Falcon in for a small Nissan Pulsar
sedan, which was thankfully more fuel-efficient than the large Ford. 
However, in the Ford's favor, I have to say that it was a nice car to drive.
I dislike American Fords, but the European and Australian Fords are quite
different.  This Ford (made in Australia) was nice, and if I had need of a
large car, I would consider it.
   By the time I reached the north of Australia, rain had set in (summer is
the rainy season in the north), and I wanted to return the car a day early
(6 days instead of 7).  I called ahead to the Darwin Airport Budget office
(where I would drop the car off early in the morning), and asked if this
would be OK.  The man there said "no worries", and told me that while I
wouldn't get a refund for the unused day, there wouldn't be any additional
costs.  So I returned the car a day early.  Upon returning to the U.S.,
Budget mailed me a copy of the invoice, and they charged me A$1152.00
(US$926) -- for a 6-day rental!!  Someone had made a mistake, giving me a
rate charging 25c for each km (and I drove a LOT of kms!) instead of the
unlimited km rate that I was guaranteed in my reservation.  Budget though,
admitted their mistake, and put everything right within two weeks of me
bringing it to their attention.

   A few misc notes on cars and driving in Australia:  In Australia, the
insurance on car rental is manditory, and INCLUDED in the price of renting
the car (in most countries, it's extra).  There's still optional insurance
available to cover a deductable, but if you have a Gold Visa card, Visa will
cover it if anything happens.
   Australia has a large car industry, especially considering the relatively
small size of its population.  Ford, Holden (what GM goes by in Australia),
and even Mitsubishi (among others, I'm sure), make or assemble cars in
Australia.  In fact, for Mitsubishi's top-end car, the Diamante, all models
to be sold outside Japan (throughout the world) are assembled in Australia.
   Air-bags seem not to be required yet by law.  The large, expensive Ford
Falcon had an airbag (driver's side only) but many of the other cars I
rented had no airbags at all.
   One interesting story I heard on the news was that there are so many
instances of cars hitting wildlife on the roads (especially in the outback)
that Holden (GM) uses a robotic "kangaroo" (called "robo-roo") to test their
cars with.  Hitting wildlife on the roads is especially bad at night, as
well as at dusk and dawn.  All along the highway (especially the Stuart
Highway, which is central Australia's main north-south route), you see road
kill every few minutes, with the vultures and birds pecking away at it.
   The Stuart Highway is one lane in each direction.  This is more than
enough though, since you can see for miles ahead.  To supply the outback,
there are lots of "road trains" on the road -- giant, long trucks that have
3 (and sometimes 4!) trailers.  Along the Highway, there were lots of little
mini "tornados" -- small dust-storm funnels that were always popping up off
the side of the road, or in front of you.  Always too small and weak to do
any damage, they made quite an interesting sight.
   On my trip, I rented a variety of different cars.  For the Northern
Territory/Stuart Highway trip, I rented the Ford Falcon (and later exchanged
it for the smaller Nissan Pulsar).  In New Zealand, I had a Honda Accord for
the North Island, and a Holden (GM) Vectra for the South Island.  Then, in
Tasmania, I had a small Suzuki Baleno (which looked and felt like a sedan
made out of tin, but at least it was fuel-efficient).
   Honda has a plant in New Zealand to assemble Civics.  I actually saw my
1996 Honda Civic all over the place in New Zealand, and every once in a
while, in Australia.  I would have rented one (since I know the car), but
the rental companies only had them in manuals, not automatics.
   In general, the Ford Falcon was the best (albeit too big) car I rented.
Someone told me that if you're an Australian, you're either a "Ford Man" or
a "Holden Man."  The Nissan Pulsar I exchanged the Ford for looked and felt
like it was a 1980s Japanese car, not a 1990s car.  (I was so convinced it
was a 1980s model, I even took out the owners manual to check -- only to see
that it was a 1995 model!)  The Honda Accord felt cramped for its size, and
the Holden Vectra was pretty bad (I had to continually force the trunk to
open -- it would constantly get stuck.  Also, the car continually veered to
the side).  The Suzuki Baleno (rented in Tasmania) was okay, except it felt
light as a feather.
   While most cars in Australia still run on "petrol" (gasoline), more and
more cars are being converted to run on "gas" (LPG/natural gas) because the
cost is so much less.  Where a litre of petrol in Australia would range from
73.9 -> 99.9, a litre of LPG gas hovered around 40c.  One man showed me his
older Ford Falcon that he converted to run on LPG.  It will run on both
petrol and LPG at the flick of a switch (the LPG tank is in the trunk). 
Most gas stations ("service stations") in Australia now also sell LPG gas.
The major service station companies in Australia are: Mobil, Shell, Ampol
(touted as fully Australian-owned), and BP.
   In Australia, the service stations are mostly self-serve.  (In New
Zealand, you get full-serve).  Since there is no longer an Australian 1c
coin, most businesses set the price of an item in increments no smaller than
5c (ie, 90c, 95c, $1.00 ... no "99c", since there is no 1c coin).  However,
the petrol pumps count off in pennies, so the station will just round off
(either lower or higher depending on the amount) how much you owe.  The
pumps are also the old-fashioned type, without any accordian-style nozzles
to suck the fumes back in.
   Unlike in the U.S., where you must pay for your gas beforehand, in
Australia, you just drive up, start pumping, and pay for the gas afterwards.
Most service stations also have little convenience stores, and in rural
Australia, especially along the Stuart Highway, many are also roadhouses,
where you can get a room to sleep for the night.
   One thing to keep in mind when driving is that you shouldn't always
believe a map.  While driving in Tasmania, I decided to take the main road
(a nice, big thick red line on the map) and after driving on it for an hour,
it suddenly turned into a dirt road.  The road sign said "INTERMITTENT
BITUMAN THE NEXT 33KM."  ("Bituman" -- prounced "Bitchman" by some -- is
what Australians call blacktop, or paved roads, and "paved roads" are called
"sealed roads").


   Alice Springs is the largest town in central Australia, and is located
pretty much in the center of the country.  It doesn't have much charm, but
at the same time, is not a bad town.
   Many of its inhabitants are Aboriginal Australians -- those that have
become part of mainstream Australian society, those that haven't, and those
that are somewhere in between.
   Someone asked me when I got back if I took a lot of pictures of
Aboriginal people.  In actual fact, I didn't take even one.  It just didn't
occur to me to, because it really would have been no different than going
out onto the streets of L.A. and taking a picture of an African-American, or
an Asian-American, or even myself.  Many of Australia's ethnic Aboriginals
have become a part of "white" Australian society as much as any white.  And
yet, still many others choose to live away from white society on Aboriginal
Land (much of which you cannot visit without a permit).  Still others seem
to live in the cracks -- not fitting in either place.

   As only a visitor to Australia, I'm not going to attempt to explain
Australian history and race-relations, nor try to judge the situation in
Australia today.  The issue is complex, and what I know of the subject only
scratches the surface.  Instead, I can only tell you the impressions I felt
as a short-term visitor, and impart to you what some of the Australians I
met told me.

   On a hot summer day all around Alice Springs, you see groups of people
relaxing under trees... a group of Aboriginal people relaxing here, a group
of whites relaxing there... but I never saw a mixed group together.  Walking
down a street, you see individuals of all different races mixed in the
crowd, walking together as individuals, but I noticed that when people were
in groups, they tended to segragate.
   One thing I noticed about the Aboriginals living in the outback areas
(those not living inside white society) was that many of them were quite
rank -- your first thought as you walk next to one is that he probably
hasn't taken a shower in weeks.  Yet after you stop and think about it, just
about anyone who makes their home in the harsh environment of the outback
(outside the city, where water is either scarce, or virtually non-existant),
would probably smell the same way.
   A frequent sight both in-town and off the road in the outback was groups
of Aboriginals just hanging out together.  In Alice Springs, I noticed that
while whites were congregated together close to the center of attraction
(whatever it may be), the Aboriginals stayed further back, watching the day
go by from a distance.  In the outback, you'd frequently see groups of
Aboriginals together, hanging out by the side of the road just talking or
relaxing, usually next to old, dilapidated cars, and occasionally coming
into town (from the Native Lands) in a bus or truck to get supplies.
   One of the hot issues in the news while I was in Australia was who owns
all of the vast grazing lands throughout the country.  While I was visiting
the outback, a judge had sided with an Aboriginal claim that much of the
land currently used for grazing could possibly be claimed by Aboriginals as
their own.  Then the cattle farmers claimed that it'd been theirs for years,
and should continue to be so, or they could go out of business -- and
besides, how do you prove who owns what -- not to mention that opening the
floodgates like this would clog the courts for years.  Government officials
were then saying that if enacted, it might have to be decided on a
case-by-case basis, while the politicians gently danced around the issue,
trying to take both sides as best they could.  Even in the hot outback,
there are plenty of cows and cattle farms ("cattle stations"), with signs
warning drivers to be careful ("wandering stock--unfenced areas ahead").
Land rights have been, and will be for quite some time, a hot issue in
Australian politics.
   I suppose similar to the way some Americans feel about Affirmative
Action, many white Australians resent the handouts and subsidizing of the
Aboriginal people.  Typical is the sentiment that many non-Aboriginal
Australians are tired of seeing their hard-earned money being spent to give
free handouts to people that don't do anything but just collect the
handouts.  Of course, an Aboriginal would argue that all of Australia was
their land before the white settlers came, and due to the white population
spreading throughout the years, most of Aboriginal land is now only in the
hot, arid, harsh, and basically useless (for anything much) areas of
Australia, such as the outback.
   Much like the problem with the American Indian, there is an alcohol
problem in many Aboriginal communities.  Some have declared themselves "dry"
areas in an effort to help combat this.
   To enter much of Aboriginal Land you need a permit.  Some tribes and
areas will allow visitors with permits, others will not, except under
certain conditions.  There are many Aboroginals living on Native Land that
will speak virtually no English.  At the same time, there are those that
have chosen to enter white society fully, and you'll see them wearing suits,
and doing business in town.  Many others seem to live on the fringes of
either society.  A common sight in cities like Alice Springs or Katherine is
seeing Aboriginals sitting around off to the sides (usually in small
groups), just watching the day go by, seemingly not sure what to do.
   I'm not sure what the statistics are on interracial marriages, but only
once did I notice a white/black couple together -- a young married couple
sitting next to me on the plane.  This seemed a microcosm of what I observed
in Australian society in general -- that whites and Aboriginals who haven't
entered mainstream white society, tended to stay apart from each other,
meeting only to do business or watch the day go by, with each group then
going its separate ways.
   Again, these observations were colored a lot by the fact that most of the
Aboriginal people I saw living in these areas of Australia are those living
on Native Lands, while most of those that have chosen to integrate into
white society would be found in the cities.  These are only observations --
take them only for what they are.

   I didn't spend too much time in Alice Springs.  I parked the car, and
walked along the Todd Street Mall (the main shopping area).  It was hot, and
a lot of people were sitting on the grass, listening to an impromptu
Christian evangelical presentation, as people talked about how Jesus had
saved them personally.  At the entrance to the indoor shopping mall, a young
part-Aboriginal girl was playing Christmas melodies on the violin, to no
doubt get some practice, and a little spending money too.  I dropped in a
few dollars (knowing what it was like), had a quick look around, then went
back outside to walk around some more.
   After looking around Todd Street, I drove to the Alice Springs office of
the Royal Flying Doctor Service to visit their museum.  The RFDS -- still in
service today -- is an organization of doctors that fly into remote parts of
the country to give medical help to those in need.  Since so much of
Australia is arid, isolated land, it's amazing that the RFDS covers the
territory it does.
   The RFDS was founded by a Presbyterian reverend named John Flynn in 1928,
realizing that the answer to medical help for those in isolated areas was
using radios and aircraft.  The Flying Doctors were born.  But by 1933, the
Flying Doctors had outgrown the resources of the Presbyterian Church, and
Revernd Flynn oversaw the transfer of the organization into what he called
"an organization of national character" -- the Royal Flying Doctors Service.
Throughout much of the RFDS' history, radio was used, both to ask for a
plane in a medical emergency, as well as for just calling a doctor to get
some general medical advice.  Today, as satellite telephones in isolated
regions become more widespread, most people use a phone to call in for
advice (or for emergencies), though radios are still used and monitored. 
There are 12 RFDS bases that cover an area the size of Western Europe --
2/3rds the size of the USA.  Some of the funding for RFDS comes from the
government, though a lot must come from private donations.


   After looking around Alice Springs for a few hours, it was early
afternoon, and I started the drive towards Ayers Rock, the famous red
monolith that appears in so many pictures of Australia.
   I wanted to reach the rock in time for sunset (when it turns a deep red),
which, at that time of year (mid-December), was 7:00pm.  I arrived at Ayers
Rock with plenty of time to spare, and drove first to Yulara.
   Yulara is the tiny area set aside for tourist accomidations near Ayers
Rock.  All accomidations, food, petrol, and restaurants are in Yulara, just
a few km from the rock site.
   Uluru (the Aboriginal name for Ayers Rock) is on Aboriginal Land. 
However, they have leased the land back to the government to use as a
National Park.  I suppose like in any country, accomidations inside or next
to a National Park are expensive, and Ayers Rock was no exception.  Other
than a campground or dormitory, the cheapest alternative was a small private
room with bath and TV for around $A98.  After going non-stop, and having had
only a few hours sleep in days, I opted for the room, though I had little
time to enjoy it.  After checking in, I drove to the sunset viewing area for
Ayers Rock, and waited until sunset.  Just about everyone else visiting the
park was there too, just hanging around, watching Ayers Rock change color
under a full moon.
   After sunset, I drove back to the hotel to grab a few hours sleep.  I
needed to be up by 4:45am the next morning.

   All day long, I wondered if I should climb Ayers Rock.  The local
Aboriginal people do not climb it, and ask that others don't for two
reasons: (1) they feel it's sacred, and (2) when someone is killed or
injured on the climb, they feel bad that it happened on their land. 
However, they allow people who wish to climb the rock to do so -- and just
about everyone visiting Ayers Rock arrives with the intention of climbing
it.  Mixing with these thoughts in my head was my foot -- feeling much
better, but still not 100% up to snuff for hiking.  I wasn't sure if I
should climb or not, so I decided I'd wake up early enough the next day to
see if I felt like doing it.
   Ayers Rock is open for climbing (in mid-December) at 5:30am.  I arrived
at the base by 5:30, and decided to give it a try.  The climb is quite steep
in places, and for most of it, there's a metal chain that's hammered into
the rock to hold onto as you climb.  With my foot the way it was, I took a
slightly slower pace, and was almost to the top when sunrise was about to
break.  I stopped for minute, and there was a flat area there to sit on, so
instead of huffing my way to the very top, I stopped just short of it, got
out my camera, and took some pictures of the sunrise.  It was actually quite
windy near the top, and my hat blew off on the way down.  It was an
interesting climb, and when I was finished, I spent the next few hours
walking along the base, looking at ancient rock drawings, waterholes, caves
where Aboriginal people once stayed, and odd-shaped rocks that are important
parts of Aboriginal folklore (explained in the brochures and signs along the
   I should mention that the four things you need when exploring this area
of Australia are: water, sunscreen lotion, a hat, and a fly net.  All over
the outback are the most annoying flies you'll ever meet.  They're not
mosquitos, so they won't bite, but they buzz all around you, and will land
on your nose, eyes, or fly right in your mouth.  All the shops in the area
sell the Genuine Australian Fly Net.  You slip it over your hat, making you
look like a bee-keeper, but the screen works, and certainly makes hiking
more enjoyable.
   As far as the suntan lotion and hat goes, those are two essential
requirements.  Skin cancer is an epidemic in Australia, and public-service
advertisements warning people about it are getting more and more graphic. 
Everyone in Australia, it seems, puts on the sunscreen before going out, and
most everyone wears a hat as well.

   After spending some time at Ayers Rock, I drove over to see the Olgas, a
beautiful canyon of rocks about an hour away.  I spent some time walking and
hiking around the area, but as it was already mid-day, I decided not to take
the entire Valley of Winds walk that I had first planned to do.  The weather
report that day said it was 42C (110F), and hiking around in the hot mid-day
sun made it seem even hotter.  From a distance though, the Olgas can appear
even more interesting than up close.  Up close, they're just giant rocks,
but depending on the light and time of day, when viewed from a distance, the
rocks can start to take on a purple tinge.


   After returning to Ayers Rock, I drove over to Kings Canyon, another
National Park, about 5 hours drive from Ayers Rock.  Like Ayers Rock, the
only accomidations and concessions available at Kings Canyon were inside a
large, self-contained area a few miles from the actual park -- in this case,
the Kings Canyon Resort.  At the Kings Canyon Resort (operated by a large
service company), there are even less choices in accomidations available --
you basically have to choose between a "budget" room (at A$95) or a regular
room (at A$178!).  Originally, I had reserved a "budget" room for myself,
but the lack of sleep and the miles walked were beginning to catch up with
me, so when I arrived in the late afternoon, I changed my reservation to a
regular room, and just lied down for a few hours in what would have been a
cheap hotel room anywhere else.  Still, even though it burned a hole in my
wallet, I think it was the right decision, because I was able to relax, not
get sick, and rest up enough for a long hike around Kings Canyon the next
   That afternoon, I had an interesting conversation with two of the
Resort's employees over dinner in the cafeteria.  One was a gardener, and
the other worked in the fancy restaurant next door.  Both were working at
Kings Canyon to get a change of scene, and figured they'd last maybe a year
before going onto something else.  There isn't much to do when the only
civilization for hours in any direction is the same small, self-contained
resort that you work at.  Like these two fellows, Australians in general
were friendly, outgoing, eager to engage in conversation, and anxious to
help.  The lady at the Resort's Mobil service station took a good half-hour
(between ringing up customers) to fold open a map and tell me everything I
wanted to know (and more) about driving conditions throughout the Northern
Territory, and especially up the Stuart Highway.  The whole Resort had an
interesting "oasis in the desert" kind of feel to it, and I spent the rest
of the day relaxing, writing postcards, catching a bit of TV, and hitting
the sack early.

   At 5:30am the next morning, I was at the base of Kings Canyon, a large
canyon full of layered rocks and rivers.  From the base, you have a choice
of two trails to take: a short 1-hour walk, or a 6km, 4-hour hike.  I chose
the hike, and I'm glad I did -- it was one of the best days of my entire
trip!  For anyone thinking about visiting Ayers Rock, don't leave the area
without seeing Kings Canyon!!  The longer Kings Canyon hike is absolutely
gorgeous.  Just start early, and take plenty of water.
   The start of the hike is the most strenuous: you basically have to hike
up the canyon wall from the bottom to the top.  It wasn't easy.  But once
you reach the top, the rest of the 6km is an easy, flat walk along the rim
of the canyon, before descending back down to the base.  I shot two rolls of
film on the hike, and enjoyed it more than Ayers Rock.  Along the way, I
caught up with an Australian-run tour, and just kind of tagged along with
them for a bit to hear some of the canyon's history and facts.  The guide
didn't mind at all, even though I wasn't part of the group.
   After I finished the hike around 10:30am, I got in the car and started
the drive back to Alice Springs.  However, in order to get to Alice Springs
from Kings Canyon on the sealed road, you have to backtrack a good 150km
towards Ayers Rock.  There is a direct road that goes towards Alice Springs,
but it's a dirt road, and the rental car agreement stipulated sealed roads
only.  The sealed road seemed like such backtrack, that I actually drove up
to the dirt road to check it out.  The previous day, the lady at the Mobil
station mentioned that she takes this dirt road all the time, as do most
locals, and that it's really not that bad, so I actually drove for a few kms
on it.  However, after a few minutes, I turned around to take the sealed
road because my main priority at that point was to save time, and while the
dirt road was more direct, I couldn't go much faster than 60kph on it, while
I could easily drive 140kph the whole way to Alice Springs on the sealed


   After the drive from Kings Canyon, I arrived back into Alice Springs in
the mid-afternoon.  Originally, I was going to spend the night there, but
since it was still early, I decided to move on, and stay somewhere up the
   I called Budget to ask about exchanging the Ford for a smaller car, and
was told me they'd have one ready for me in an hour, so I decided to check
out some more of Alice Springs.  I drove to the top of Anzac Hill (nothing
much, but you get a nice view of the city), then stopped at a Hungry Jacks
for lunch (in Australia, the Burger Kings are known as "Hungry Jacks"). 
After lunch, I drove over to the Alice Springs Kmart.  (Yes, it seems no
matter where you go in this world, you just can't escape those flashing blue
light specials).  Because of the constant hot weather in Alice Springs, the
entire outdoor parking lot for Kmart was "covered" by tarps.  Once inside,
it looked like any American Kmart -- confused shoppers, confused staff, and
little or no air-conditioning.  Half the items in the store seemed to be
imported from China, and of course, the stocks were different than those
you'd find at an American Kmart.  I asked one of the employees what the
hours were, and was told that because it was so close to Christmas, they
were staying open "late" -- until 9:00pm.  Usually though, they'd close much
earlier.  Shopping close to Christmas is the same in Australia as it is in
the States: hoards of ads, hoards of shoppers, and full parking lots.  And
then a few days later come all the "stock reduction" sales (Australians use
the phrase "while stocks last", rather than "while supplies last").
   Three large American stores have a strong presence in Australia: Kmart,
Target, and Woolworths.  As in the U.S., the Kmarts are noisy, hot, and
untidy, while the Targets are clean, cool, and quiet.  Woolworths in
Australia operates both as a supermarket and variety store, depending on the
   Leaving Kmart, I drove to the Budget office to exchage cars.  As yet
another example of how friendly people were, when I asked simply if there
was a convenience store nearby to pick up some cold sodas, the lady at the
counter left and came back with a styrofoam cooler, asking me if I had one.
When I said no, she gave it to me.
   I exchanged cars, and started the trip north.


   By the time I started north on the Stuart Highway, it was already getting
late, so I decided to stop at Ti Tree for the night -- a small town just a
few hours drive north.
   There isn't much to the town of Ti Tree, but I liked it immediately when
I arrived.  The population couldn't be more than a few hundred, with the
town consisting of one service station (a Mobil roadhouse where I spent the
night), a school, a few homes, and some farm land.  Still, I've always liked
tiny, unimportant desert towns, and took a shine to the area immediately.
   I drove up to the Mobil station, and checked into my room for the night.
In back of the station was a line of bungalow-style rooms, each with a tiny
bathroom, TV, and air-con unit.  As tacky as it might sound, it was actually
quite a nice play to spend the evening.  The rooms were far enough in back
where you didn't get any noise (except for the wandering peacock squaking),
and there was a large grassy area with trees in front to relax in, with some
kangaroos resting in a large cage.
   A lot of kangaroos unfortunately become road kill, and that leaves the
kangaroo babies to fend for themselves.  Often, people will pick them up,
and take them as pets.  A few days before, while stopping for petrol at a
Shell station, I met up with a family that had done just that.  The family
saw that a kangaroo had been run-over, and stopped to take the orphaned baby
with them.  The youngest son was actually feeding the baby kangaroo with a
baby's bottle...

   After having a small dinner at the Mobil roadhouse (you can get petrol, a
hot meal, and a place to sleep at most outback roadhouses), I decided to
take a walk before sunset and see what there was of Ti Tree.  Some
Aboriginal children sitting on the grass outside the tiny Ti Tree School...
the police station, small and quiet... the smell of dinner in the air as I
passed by some old homes... a farm windmill standing proud against a full
moon... and every once in a while, a car or road train whizzing by along the
Stuart Highway.  Not a bad place to spend a lazy evening.


   Driving the Stuart Highway was something I enjoyed immensely, possibly
because I've always liked the desert.  The next day would be almost nothing
but driving -- from Ti Tree all the way to Katherine in the north -- but I
loved it.  Upon returning from my trip, I realized that I took almost no
pictures during the drive.  I suppose there wasn't anything too
out-of-the-ordinary to take a picture of, but it's a drive that I highly
recommend to anyone, and it remains one of my favorite parts of the trip.

   Driving north, you pass through many small outback towns, some just a
little larger than others.  Every hour or so, you'll pass either a small
town, or just a service station, to get petrol, a cold one, or some food,
and then it'll be nothing but desert or grazing areas again until the next
   A few nights earlier while staying at Kings Canyon, I had written some
postcards, but had yet to mail them.  I stopped for petrol along the side of
the road, filled up, bought some Deep Spring soda, and asked the attendent
if there was a place to mail the postcards.  He said just to leave it with
him -- that the mail truck came by twice a week and picked up the mail. He
was also curious about the price of petrol in the States, and mentioned that
the high price in Australia is due, in large part, to all the taxes placed
on petrol.  He was proud to tell me that his prices were the lowest around
(and indeed, they were).
   In many of the towns along the route north, the old, original telegraph
buildings that played an intregal part of settling the interior of the
country still survive.  Most are museums now, and many of them have bloody
histories, as Aboriginals and whites fought around them years ago.  I turned
off to see one, about 16km outside of Tennant Creek.  It was too early in
the morning for it to be open, but the building was still standing.  Just
driving around (off of the highway) exploring a bit, I came to a small,
empty schoolhouse (the kids were on summer break), and in the middle of
nowhere, found the cheapest soda machine in all Australia in front of that
school -- A$1 for a can of soda.

   Back on the Stuart Highway driving north, I came to Renner Springs around
noon.  Renner Springs is the city that is the supposed dividing line between
two very different climatic areas of Australia -- the hot, dry, arid central
outback, and the wet, humid north.  And sure enough, it was.  For the entire
time I had been in central Australia, there wasn't a cloud in the sky, but
as I drove north, I began to notice clouds ahead of me -- and just about the
time I reached Renner Springs, the clouds were above me.
   As you drive further north, the land's characteristics change too.  In
the center of Australia, all there is to see for miles around is the flat,
red earth, with some scrub brush or spinifex grass here and there.  But the
further north you go, the greener the earth becomes, while isolated trees
become forests.  One interesting (and somewhat disgusting) sight is that
once you enter the north, everywhere off to the side of the road are these
humongous termite hills -- some as large as a person.  One little town I
passed through even solidified one and displayed it with a plaque (like a
statue) in the center of town.
   Continuing north, people seemed to be very much in a hurry.  It was
December 24th, and those that were driving along the vast, empty Stuart
Highway, were often going over 160km to get where they were going.
   In the early afternoon, I passed a young couple that was stuck off the
side of the road with car problems.  Their white Porsche had broken down
(the only Porsche I noticed while in Australia), and I pulled over to help
them.  They hopped in the car, and I drove to the closest service station
(about 30 minutes up the road), where he called the auto club and waited for
help.  Originally from Sydney, the guy was in the Australian Air Force, and
he and his girlfriend were heading up to Katherine, where he had just been


   In the late afternoon, I arrived in Katherine, where I spent the night.
After resting for an hour (catching "Animaniacs" on TV), I went to go look
around.  The best way I can describe the town is a "wet" version of Alice
Springs.  A lot of Aboriginals live in Katherine, and the town seems a
little dilapidated and poor, though it is a tourist base for the nearby
Kakadu National Park.  The sky was grey, and rain was imminent.  I walked
around a bit, though many stores were closing early due to Christmas Eve. 
There wasn't much open for dinner, but a trusty "roadhouse" saved the day
(not that food sitting under a heat lamp is delicious cuisine, but it'll do
the trick if you're hungry).  Right in town is a 24hr BP Roadhouse, and it
was quite busy, being one of the few places open on Christmas Eve.  Inside
was also the main tour-booking desk for Katherine.  I wanted to take a boat
down the Katherine Gorge the next day, but the next day being Christmas, I
wasn't sure if it'd be running.  When I asked about it, I was told that I
was the only person so far, and that they required a minimum of 2 people. 
The girl suggested checking back in an hour or two, or calling early the
next morning.  However, checking back an hour later, there was already a
handful of people booked on the tour, so everything worked out.
   While walking around town, I noticed that Woolworth's was still open, so
I stopped in to buy some film and an umbrella -- and I would need it.  By
the early evening, the rain came, and it rained hard and long all night.

   The next day, I showed up for the river cruise at Katherine Gorge.  While
waiting for the boat, I looked up to see hundreds of bats hanging from the
trees overhead.  The Gorge itself is nothing spectacular compared to some of
the other gorges of the world, but there are some interesting canyon walls
and rock formations, and it was worth taking the trip.  The weather started
sunning up, and before returning back, we all jumped into a swimming hole to
cool off.


   After visiting Katherine Gorge, I headed towards Kakadu National Park, a
large chunk of land northeast of Katherine.  I had been warned before coming
that summer was the rainy season ("The Wet" as the locals call it) in the
region, but wanted to see the area anyway.
   Like both Ayers Rock and Kings Canyon, there were limited accomidations
inside the park.  Originally I was going to stay at the Ubirr Youth Hostel,
but the roads to Ubirr were accessible only by a 4WD because of the recent
rains, so instead, I stayed in Cooinda.  Again, like Kings Canyon, one
accomidation place provided both the normal (expensive) and youth hostel
(A$15) rooms.  I opted for a hostel room, and they turned out to be tiny
2-person shacks, but because the rainy season never gets busy, I wound up
getting a shack to myself.  It was adequate except for the fact that the
roofs were metal, and when the rain started to come down at night, the noise
was so loud, it was virtually impossible to sleep.
   Because it was Christas Day, the only food avialable that evening other
than snacks was an expensive Christmas Dinner (I opted for the snacks). 
There wasn't much to do in the evening except hang around the covered dining
area.  A family from New Zealand (Wellington), saw that I was alone, and
asked if I wanted to join them.  This turned into a very interesting, long
evening of conversation.
   The family (the parents and three daughters) was visiting Australia from
New Zealand, seeing the country in a motorhome.  Their next stop was to be
the Gulf of Carpentaria, though cyclone warnings had just been posted for
that area.  The wife was involved in New Zealand film production, so we
talked a bit about that (since I'm a film buff, and often play on movie
soundtracks).  I found out that "The Frighteners" with Michael J. Fox was
filmed in New Zealand (with a NZ director), and that people wanted to work
on Hercules and Xena (both filmed in NZ) because the actors were paid in
U.S. dollars instead of New Zealand dollars.  Film production in NZ is very
small, and always on the smallest of budgets, though Steven Speilberg will
film part of the Jurassic Park sequel in New Zealand (Sam Neil, who was in
Jurassic Park, is from New Zealand).  The daughters (high-school aged)
didn't understand why American movies were so hollow, especially on story
and characterization, though they still went to see them like everyone
else.  One of the daughters also goes to the same school as Anna Paquin (the
young actress who won an Oscar for "The Piano").
   Besides movies, we also talked a lot about Australia, New Zealand, and
America (the girls thought I had very strong American accent).  They helped
me with some ideas of places to see later in New Zealand, then the father
put in his two cents about the native peoples of the region.  He saw the
Aboriginals of Australia as lethargic compared to the native people of New
Zealand (the Maori).  He went on about how Australian Aboriginals have taken
a beating over the years, and rarely put up fights, while in New Zealand,
when the whites came, there was actually a formal treaty signed,
guaranteeing the native Maoris protection under the Queen in exchange for
allowing the whites to settle -- something the Maoris have vigorously and
consistantly pursued to this day.  He said that you only have to say you're
part Maori, and you're entitled to special claims, and that the NZ Maoris
are quite sophisticated and smart at interpreting a broad, general agreement
to their favor.
   When it got late, I walked back to my shack.  I thought I had lost my
watch, so asked the front desk if they had a spare alarm clock I could
borrow.  They didn't, but they volunteered to knock on my door at 6:00am
(not that I could sleep with the rain on the metal roof anyway).  As it
turned out, I didn't lose my watch, but I did lose something else that had
some sentimental value to me: a small "Nike" towel that I won at the U.S.
Embassy in Beijing on July 4, 1988.  I took it with me to Australia because
it was a small towel that dried quickly, but now some lucky person in
Cooinda will make use of it.
   The next morning, a man from the front desk banged on the door (in
pouring rain) at 6:00am to wake me up.  I caught the 6:25am bus to the
Yellow Waters River Cruise.
   The rain stopped soon (though the sky was still grey), and the cruise
turned out to be pretty nice.  The first trip of the day is supposed to be
the best one to see wildlife, and sure enough, off the side of the boat were
plenty of crocidiles.  The whole area resembled a marsh or wetlands, and
many birds make their homes there.
   When the cruise was over, I drove to Nourlangie Rock, a site containing
some ancient rock drawings.  I originally wanted to see the drawings at
Ubirr, but the roads there (as well as to most other places in Kakadu), were
either totally washed out, or accessible only with a 4WD.  I settled for
Nourlangie Rock, with its well-preserved cave drawings.  While I was walking
around the area (alone), a wild kangaroo appeared up close, had a look, then
hopped away.


   Feeling tired, wet, and disappointed that so many roads were washed out
or inaccessible with a normal car, I decided to leave Kakadu and go onto
Darwin that afternoon.  Darwin is a town on the northern coast of Australia,
and the weather there in the summer is hot, humid, and wet.  I read that
many people who live in Darwin stay only a few years before moving on.  I
can understand why.  It's not that Darwin is a bad city -- it's not -- but
during the summers, the weather is miserable.
   Since I hardly got any sleep in Kakadu, and I'd have to wake up at 4:30am
the next day for an early flight, I wanted a place to crash and get a few
good hours of sleep in Darwin.  I found one.
   If you're ever in Darwin, and want a simple, clean motel room, stay at
the "Valu Inn", a place their brochure describes as a "self-service motel."
Located right in downtown Darwin, the place is brand new, quiet, and you get
a nice cozy air-conditioned room with a private bath and a large 19" Akai
color TV for $49 (December rate).  There are vending machines in the
hallways for snacks, and the rooms were spotless white.
   I walked around Darwin a bit in the afternoon, but the weather was so
miserable (no rain yet, but grey skies and high humidity) that I actually
stopped to see a movie ("Daylight", starring Sylvester Stallone) just to get
out of the weather.
   Whenever I travel, I always make it a point to see a movie -- either an
American film, or a local film.  While in Australia, I saw three films:
"Daylight" (in Darwin), "Dragonheart" (in Melbourne) and "The Ghost in the
Darkness" (in Adelaide).  I actually wanted to see some other films (such as
"Fly Away Home", which I missed), but the times were always wrong.
   Movies in Australia (in the large chains like Greater Union, Hoytts, and
Village Center) are around A$11.00, and (at least in the Greater Union
cinemas), if a movie is scheduled to start at 4:30pm, when 4:30 rolls
around, the room darkens (forcing you to pay attention) and you first get
treated to slides of advertisements, accompanied, interestingly enough, by a
matching soundtrack.  After the slides finish, the film ads begin (first
product advertisements, then the coming-attraction trailers).  It's a good
15 minutes before the movie actually starts.
   In the late afternoon, I stopped at the Darwin Youth Hostel to book some
tours for the Cairns area, where I'd be visiting next.  I decided on a 4WD
tour to the Daintree Rainforest, and a tour out to the Great Barrier Reef. 
For the reef trip, I booked my tour with Quicksilver, which had come
recommended by some people I talked to.
   Having a Youth Hostel card is always a good idea when you travel.  Youth
hostels are always the cheapest places to stay, and there's no age limit to
them.  Most are either dormitory, 4-person, or 6-person rooms, though many
also offer private single rooms, and even family rooms for families
travelling with young children.  Even if you don't plan to stay in a hostel
all the time, it's still worth getting a card.  There are often concessions
("discounts" are called "concessions" in Australia) available for people
with youth hostel cards.  All you have to do is ask, and about 1/2 the time,
you'll save a few dollars by showing your card.  A youth hostel card
currently costs US$25 in the U.S., and it easily pays for itself, both from
being able to use the hostels (at the YH member rate), and from the many
concessions you get by showing the card.  (Just the trip out to the Reef had
a $14 concession for youth hostel cardholders).


   After waking up before sunrise and dropping the car off at the Darwin
airport, I took an Ansett flight into Cairns (pronounced "Canns"), a major
tourist destination on Australia's north-east coast, and the point to catch
trips out to the Great Barrier Reef.
   Cairns itself is a large city that is almost totally tourism-based.  It's
not a bad place at all, but, like Honolulu, if there wasn't tourism in the
area, the city would look radically different.
   Actually, the comparison to Hawaii is most appropriate, for here, much of
the area outside the city could double for Hawaii.  Everything about the
area surrounding Cairns reminded me of Maui's interior: the weather, the
mountains, the clouds, the endless fields of sugar-cane, the odd smokestack
or two on a sugar-cane farm, and the lush green of the area.
   Inside the city, Cairns itself is busy, bustling, and almost all
tourism-based.  There are direct flights to Cairns from Asia, and many
tourists fly directly from into Cainrs from Asia, then fly right back home
again.  Just about every business in town seemed to be either a gift shop
(often with welcome signs in Japanese, Chinese, and Korean), a restaurant,
or a tour-booking desk, though there were a few "normal" shopping malls as
well.  I didn't spend too much time in the city itself, since the main
attractions are in the surrounding areas, but I did walk around a bit during
the evenings, and on my last night there, bought my one big purchase of the
trip at the local night market: a digeridoo (the traditional Australian
Aboriginal musical instrument made out of a long, hollowed-out piece of
wood), which I had shipped home.
   When I first arrived in Cairns, I checked into a cheap motel called the
"Wintersun", and it was like a time-warp back in time.  The decor, from the
curtains to the furnature to the ceiling fan, was pure 1960s.  When the
owners wanted to go out for the evening, they'd just put a "FULL" sign up
and close the office, but the place did the trick.  I dropped my bag off and
headed up to Kurana.

   Kuranda is a small mountain village that tourists love to flock to.  It's
nothing special, but is a nice quiet town nestled in the mountains, at the
eastern edge of the tablelands.  It's nice to just stroll around, and there
are plenty of little shops to keep you busy.  There's also a nice indoor
butterfly sanctuary that I visited, with plenty of large, blue Australian
Ulyssis butterflies fluttering around.  Other than driving, there are two
ways to get to Kuranda from Cairns: (1) the Skyrail, a multi-sectioned
aerial tram, or (2) historic train.  I decided to take the Skyrail up, and
the train back down.
   The Skyrail is quite an interesting experience, and I recommend it to
anyone planning on visiting Kuranda.  It takes just under a half-hour to get
to the top (more if you spend some time walking around the two stations in
the middle where you must get out to change gondolas).  You travel above the
canopy of the rainforest, and get some spectacular views of the area,
including the rainforest itself, the flat sugar-cane fields outside Cairns,
and the waterfalls further up towards Kuranda.
   The train is a fun trip too -- it's an older historic train that travels
a perilous route up and down the mountain.  For much of the trip, the speed
is 30kph or below, and the train has to stop occasionally to make sure the
tracks ahead are clear of debris or washouts.
   One little mishap that happened here was that on the way up to Kuranda, I
noticed that the skylight filter on my camera had shattered.  One of the
cashiers at the Skyrail gift shop up in Kuranda helped to break away the
shattered glass (so I could take pictures), but the ring of the filter was
stuck on the lens so tight, no one could take it off.  Throughout my trip, I
stopped in at numerous camera stores, hoping someone could pry the ring off
so I could put a new filter on (to protect the lens), but no one had any
success.  In the end, the lens itself (a Vivitar 28-210mm lens), started
giving out at the end of the trip, but I was still able to use it with some

   For my second day in the Cairns area, I booked a 4WD tour into the
Daintree rainforest and Cape Tribulation area.  These are nice, coastal
areas north of Cairns that are accessible only with a 4WD vehicle.
   The tour consisted of 5 other people plus our guide, an Aboriginal named
George, who grew up in the Cairns area.  We started the day out by taking a
cruise down the Daintree river, seeing mile after mile of mangrove trees
seemingly grow right out of the water.  Then, back in the 4WD, we drove
deeper into the rainforest, took some interesting walks, stopped for lunch
at a little resort, and even went for a swim in a crocidile-safe area.
   Swimming in Northern Queensland is not the best thing to do in the
summer.  There are miles and miles of beautiful beaches along the coast, and
cool refreshing rivers and streams in the rainforest, but swimming in either
is taking a big risk.
   Deadly box jellyfish appear all along the eastern coast of Australia in
the summer, making swimming at the beaches too risky.  The stings from the
box jellyfish can kill you in less than 10 minutes, and signs warning
against swimming are everywhere.  For those foolish enough to ignore such
warnings, there are gallon-sized bottles containing blue-colored vinegar
(that looks suspiciously like windshield-wiper fluid) at most beaches, to
pour on your skin if you get stung.  The box jellies don't get out as far as
the reef -- they stay close to shore, so swimming in the reef is not a
problem.  There are a few beaches where people have tried experiments, such
as putting up nets and dividers, trying to make a "jellyfish-safe" swimming
area, but our guide George told us that often, the jellyfish get inside the
protected areas anyway, either from the tides, or by getting through the
nets, and once trapped inside, they make swimming in these areas even more
   In the rainforest, crocidiles love to swim as much as humans, and as you
pass river after river, you see "No Swimming" signs posted, warning of
crocidiles.  There are some places, however, where the crocs won't go, and
that's where all had a refreshing mid-day swim, under the canopy of the
   We then headed further north to the Cape Tribulation beach area (though
again, swimming was not advised).  It was an interesting sight to see the
rainforest reach all the way to the ocean.
   While driving, George, our guide, told us that Australia declared
Daintree a World Heritage Area, meaning most of the land was now protected.
However, the people that owned property and houses BEFORE it was declared a
World Heritage Area are still permitted to live there.  The government is
allowed to bid on their property (in hopes of buying it to preserve more
rainforest) but those that have the property either want to continue living
in the area, (I can see why -- it's beautiful), or sell it to a private
party at a much higher price.
   In the late afternoon, we stopped at Mossman Gorge on the way back into
Cairns, a large stream with boulders and some fast-moving water.  A lot of
people went in swimming, riding the strong current downhill, but I just
looked around the area.  There's a rickity wooden bridge over the gorge that
asks that no more than 10 people be on the bridge at the same time.

   The next day was Great Barrier Reef day.  The Quicksilver boat left from
Cairns, with a stop in Port Douglas to pick up passengers.  (Years ago, Port
Douglas was as bustling a city as Cairns was.  After a while though, most of
the activity moved to Cairns, and Port Douglas became a quiet little town up
the coast -- that was, until recently, when Sheraton Hotels opened a huge,
lavish resort and golf course there.  President Clinton stayed at this
resort when he visited Australia in 1996).
   There are a lot of tour operators that run tours out to the Great Barrier
Reef, but I chose Quicksilver because of some recommendations, and because
their "platform" out on the sea is right above a great section of reef.  As
soon as the boat arrived, the first thing I did was get the snorkel gear and
fins (provided) and jump right in -- before everyone else (and their oozing
suntan lotion) did.  They rope off the area you're allowed to swim in (since
you're in open water), but it was more than enough.  Scuba was an option for
an additional cost, but truthfully, it wasn't needed.  Quicksilver has a
great location -- their swimming area is right above a tall reef that's at
most, only 10 feet below you.  The sun was out, and everything looked so
clear.  With the beautiful coral, the sea life, and all the fish swimming
around you, I easily went through the 24 shots on the underwater camera I
brought with me -- then went and bought two more on board the boat.
   Included in the price of the tour was a very good buffet-style lunch, but
almost all of my time was spent in the water.  I was very conscious not to
get sunburned.  I wore a hat, t-shirt, and put some good waterproof suntan
lotion on.  It worked, and I managed to spend most of the day in the water
without getting burned.
   On the way back, I sat next to an older retired Japanese man and his wife
from the town of Kunitachi (did he know Hime-chan? <--inside joke), who was
a retired hydro-electric power engineer.  The boat held a lot of passengers,
and included groups of French, Japanese, German, Chinese, American, and
Australian toursists, among, I'm sure, many others.  I truthfully don't know
how good or bad the other tour operators are to the reef, but I was more
than pleased with Quicksilver.  They were professional, and had a great reef
location.  Perfect weather, perfect conditions, and some beautiful reef made
for an excellent day of snorkling with the fishies.


   After Cairns, I flew into Brisbane to meet a fellow computer-hobbyiest
that shares the same passion for an old 1980s computer that I do.  I've had
a Radio Shack Color Computer in one incarnation or another since 1981, when
I was in nineth grade.  Even today, though I finally bought my first "real"
computer over the summer (a 120Mhz Pentium Toshiba laptop), the laptop goes
largely unused, but there isn't a day that goes by when I don't switch on my
trusty Color Computer 3 (CoCo3) at least once.  I've used it on the internet
for years (if people only knew!), modeming at 19,200 baud on a computer made
in an age when most people didn't even have 300 baud modems.  I can do just
about anything today's 200Mhz Pentium computers can do on a 1.78Mhz (that's
right... 1.78Mhz!) 8-bit Motorola 6809-based machine that sold for as low as
$29 when discontinued.  I realize few people will believe this, but it's
true.  Believe it!  That's why so many of us stuck with these great little
machines.  If it wasn't true, I'd be using my laptop, and shoving the CoCo3
in the closet.  Instead, people are STILL writing new software for the
thing, and like always, I'm typing this entire narrative on my CoCo3!
   Well over the years, the internet has helped die-hard CoCo users from all
over the world keep in touch.  One of them living in Australia, upon hearing
that I'd be visiting nearby, invited me to come visit and stay with him and
his family.  So, I flew into Brisbane and met Bob D. and his wife at the
airport.  The Brisbane airport has an interesting exhibit -- the actual
plane used to fly the first Australia -> USA flight is on display there.
   After stopping off to pick up the daughter (who was on break from high
school, and had won a free pass on the radio to see "Romeo + Juliet"), we
headed to the local mall cinema to drop her off.  Then, we went to the Lone
Pine Sanctuary.
   The sanctuary has plenty of Australian wildlife, including koalas and
kangaroos.  It was pretty hot, so the kangaroos were hanging out in the
shade under the trees.  Much the way the deers act at a Japanese deer park,
you could buy kangaroo feed, and if you stretched your hand out, and the
kangaroos saw food, they'd come up to you -- but once the food was done (or
if you really didn't have any), they'd just go back to their own business.
Still, it was a nice opportunity to see so many kangaroos that were used to
people up close.
   After the sanctuary, we went to the local mall, where I picked up a copy
of the Lonely Planet New Zealand guide.  From there, I made some calls to
Qantas about changing my flight to New Zealand to the following day,
realizing that I now had a few days in which I could see some of NZ's North
Island if I wished, since I had left Kakadu and Darwin earlier than planned
because of the weather.  Changing the flight was no problem, but getting
accomidations were.  I wanted to fly into Auckland the next day, rent a car,
and head straight up to the Bay of Islands, north of Auckland.  However,
when I called the main Bay of Islands reservation line in New Zealand, I was
told that New Years is the most popular time for that area, and everything
had been sold out for weeks.  Still, always determined to give it a go
rather than resign myself to not trying, I went ahead and changed the Qantas
ticket to fly out the next day.  I wanted to see the Bay of Islands, and if
it meant sleeping in my car, I didn't care.
   We stopped at a Hungry Jacks for lunch, and after picking up Bob's
daughter from the cinema, went to the top of a local mountain for a good
view of the whole Brisbane area.  I actually never made it to downtown
Brisbane, but it was no loss.  It was much more interesting spending some
time with Bob and his family than just walking around a downtown area
looking at a guidebook.
   After the lookout, we all headed back to the house to relax, talk, and
tinker around in the garage.  That evening, Bob had a barbecue in his
backyard, and invited two other neighborhood CoCo users and their wives over
to spend a nice summer's evening.  It was a great way to spend the night,
first having a barbecue outside, then checking out the house across the
street -- which had been elaborately decorated with every type of Christmas
light and decoration you could imagine -- then going back in to talk, listen
to Australian folk music, and just chat the night away in an Australian


   At the Brisbane airport the next morning, while waiting for my flight to
Auckland, I decided to make some calls to see if any accomidations had
become available at the Bay of Islands.  Instead of calling the central
reservations number for the area, as I had done the day before, I took out
the Lonely Planet book, and decided to call some of the places directly.
   The first place I called was a B&B listed as "Te Haumi House".  Luckily,
the Lonely Planet screwed up, and printed the phone number for another B&B
(called "Abba Villa") as the number for "Te Haumi House".  When I called,
the lady at Abba Villa said "Ah, you must be using the Lonely Planet.  Would
you like Te Haumi's number?"  I asked her instead if they had a room
available, and luckily, she had one left.  I had her hold it for me, and I
was off to New Zealand.

   I arrived into Auckland around 3:00pm, and immediately rented a car to
start the drive north to the Bay of Islands.  Before long, it started to
feel as if I never left California.  Why?  Because I was driving on the
afternoon of Dec 31st -- New Years Eve, and it seemed that every car in
Auckland was headed up to the Bay of Islands for New Years.  I wasn't more
than 20 minutes out of Auckland when the traffic suddenly came to a
standstill, and the only sight ahead was a line of cars stretching off into
the horizon.
   Like most roads in New Zealand, the main coastal route I was taking had
only one lane in each direction, with only an occasinal passing lane (during
uphill grades only).  The traffic inched by at 30-40kph, and the thought
that kept running through my mind was just how bad New Zealand drivers are. 
To be fair, most of the cars heading up to the Bay of Islands that day were
driven by teenagers or 20-somethings going up to celebrate New Year's Eve --
perhaps not the "average" New Zealand driver -- but for my entire stay in
the country, it was clear that NZ drivers were lot less careful and a lot
riskier than their Australian (or even American) counterparts.  With the
drivers that day up to the Bay of Islands, I could have been in Taiwan. 
Cars were trying to pass left and right, coming inches from hitting oncoming
traffic just to get one car ahead in a line of cars that stretched into the
thousands -- and that wasn't about to start moving anytime soon.
   Later, in other parts of New Zealand, the drivers didn't seem quite as
bad, but even then, New Zealanders would do incredibly stupid things on the
road.  It's apparently a recognized problem, because every few minutes on TV
were advertisements about driving fatality statistics, and reminders to
drive safely and not drink.  One very graphic (and long) public service
announcement that appeared over and over again on TV showed one gruesome car
accident after another, injured bodies, relatives of the dead crying, all
while playing "Auld Lang Syne" in the background.  It talked about traffic
fatalities, mentioning that so far, the count this year was less than in
previous years.
   Australia also aired similar (albeit less graphic) public service
announcements on TV for the holiday season (concentrating more on speeding),
but the problem is far less severe in Australia than in New Zealand.  After
driving a total of 7500km in both countries, I can tell you that Australians
are far friendlier and safer drivers than Kiwis.  While in Australia, the
radio and TV would keep constant tabs on the number of traffic fatalities,
and the number of deaths was surprisingly small (about 10 for the entire
country, with places like the Northern Territory -- where there is no speed
limit -- reporting not one traffic death).

   Back in New Zealand, I found out the reason for all the traffic while
listening to the radio: The Bay of Islands is the traditional place kids go
to celebrate New Years.  Just out of chance, I happened to be visiting the
area at the same time.  It seemed like the entire under-30 population of NZ
was driving up to the Bay of Islands for New Years Eve, and it would be
quite a sight.  Just a few days before, a cyclone that passed through the
area, and many people cancelled their reservations.  Then, the weather
cleared, and on Dec 31st, I was driving up with the hoards of people that
decided to take their trip after all.
   I can probably thank that cyclone for two things though: (1) being able
to (barely) get a room, and (2) having a look at the interior of the north
island.  The bad weather a few days before had washed out a portion of the
main coastal route north, and everyone was detoured inland for a bit.  While
the slow line of thousands of cars, all jammed onto a tiny country road,
might have seemed strange at first, I'm glad it happened, because the drive
inland was one of the most beautiful drives I took on my trip -- so nice in
fact, that on the return, I set aside a good part of the day to take the
inland roads home.
NORTH ISLAND                                                            

   Finally, after a long day that began in Brisbane -- included a tiring
flight, and having to drive in heavy traffic on a wide variety of roads -- I
arrived at the Bay of Islands.  Sure enough, the place was overrun with kids
ready to celebrate New Years.  A huge grassy area belonging to the local
school was rented out for the pitching of tents, and people were shouting,
partying, and drinking (though glass bottles were officially prohibited)
everywhere I went.  The area was so crowded, the school was turning people
away, and all the accomidations in the area had NO VACANCY signs up.
   I checked into the Abba Villa (a nice budget B&B with very friendly
hosts, located up the street from downtown Paihia, free from the party noise
below), and walked into town to get some dinner.  Most restaurants and snack
shops were already closed, or sold out of most items (though the local
police were selling steak sandwiches to raise money).  In the end, I went to
a small second-floor pizza place, and ordered a mini pizza.  I probably
appeared pretty ragged, but sat down and looked out at the festivities from
the upstairs window.
   I walked back to the B&B, planning to go to bed early that night, but
after taking a shower and sitting down in the little TV lounge, I felt much
better.  A few minutes later, a Japanese girl from Osaka, who had also gone
to the same pizza restaurant and was staying at the B&B, came in and sat
down.  She was travelling alone, but had been in New Zealand before,
studying English.  I actually hadn't planned to stay up, but we started
talking about different things, and it turned out to be one of the nicest
evenings of my trip.  An hour or two later, a Japanese guy (also travelling
alone) came into the TV room, and the three of us continued talking (in
English, and occasional Japanese).  The guy had brought ramen with him all
the way from Japan to celebrate New Years.  (Tradition holds that you slurp
long ramen noodles for a good New Year).  He cooked the ramen, and we all
shared it, talking until midnight.  When midnight came, we stepped outside
(to an incredibly starry sky) and faintly heard the "Happy New Years!"
shouts of the revelers down below.  It had been a long day, but it ended
with a most enjoyable evening.

   The next day, I was up early to take the famous "Fuller's Cream Trip"
through the Bay of Islands.  The trip leaves first from Paihia, then picks
up passengers in Russell.  I had spent the night in Paihia, and wanted to
look around Russell a bit before boarding the cruise, so early that morning,
I took the Paihia -> Russell ferry across to Russell and walked around.
   Paihia and Russell are the two main towns in the Bay of Islands, and if
Paihia is the commercial one, Russell is the charming one.  Though small,
Russell is full of historic walks and old homes.  It's quiet, and also very
hilly.  I walked around for a bit until 10:15, when I had to be at the docks
to catch the Cream Trip boat.
   The Fullers "Cream Trip" is a famous boat cruise through the many small
islands of the Bay.  Originally, there were many dairy farms on the islands,
and Fuller would take his boat from island to island, picking up the cream
(milk) from the farms.  Through the years though, the farms have all but
disappeared, though the trip is still popular for tourists.  Its reputation
is well-deserved -- the 5-6 hour tour takes you through some of New
Zealand's most beautiful scenery, and throughout the day, the skipper of the
boat (who has been doing the tour for over 30 years), talks about the
history of the various islands, and what each is used for now.  Many of them
are available as camping grounds (accessible by boat), with many Aucklanders
sailing up to use them for holiday.  Still others are privately owned, and
we actually made a few stops to drop off some mail and supplies.
   At mid-day, we stopped for an hour on the one island where Fullers was
allowed to build a concession (a small snack bar/restaurant).  There's a
short 15-minute hike up the top of the hill, and the view from the top is
absolutely beautiful.  A lot of people were camping and swimming on the
island, as it was the only public island with facilities (food, power,
toilets, etc.)  The other public islands have no facilities (you must use
the facilities on your boat).  There was even a broken payphone, but the guy
working the snackbar let me use their cordless phone to make a call.
   After the stop, we continued onto more of the various islands, seeing
some penguins and seals along the way.  We arrived back into Paihia by
3:30pm, and the trip was worth every cent.

   It was time to drive back to Auckland, and since it was mid-summer, I
still had a good five hours of daylight left.  Instead of returning via the
main coastal route, I decided to go inland, and take some of the beautiful
country roads that I had seen a bit of while driving up.  I did so, and
drove through some beautiful farmland, with miles and miles of rolling green
hills.  While still keeping my general direction south, I'd just wander a
bit on one road, then decide to take another, then get off onto yet another
to look around.  I took a lot of dirt back roads as well, passing sheep farm
after sheep farm in the bright afternoon -- probably the only tourist to
take these roads, stopping now and then to get out and look around.
   The people I met along the way were more than friendly.  I stopped once
at a small country Shell station to ask about the area, and the owner took
out a large, detailed map of all the roads (dirt and sealed) that were, of
course, not on any regular map.  Later, while stopped once on a dirt road, a
lady in a passing pickup asked if I needed directions or help.  People were
friendly, the scenery was gorgeous, and it was something I could never get
taking the coastal highway back.  I cannot stress enough to anyone planning
a trip up to the Bay of Islands from Auckland, to leave some time and take
the small inland country roads.  If I had taken the coastal route, the drive
would have been 2.5 hours (without holiday traffic).  Instead, I leisurely
enjoyed a beautiful 6 hours, and didn't get back into Auckland until 9:45pm.
   Since I would be spending the next day in Auckland, and would have no
need of a car, I drove to the Auckland airport that night, and returned the
car back to Avis at around 10:15pm.  Getting airport transportation back
into the city though, wasn't easy.  They have shuttle buses (NZ$15) but they
only run when the planes get in, in order to fill them up.  The shuttle bus
driver said I'd have to wait 45-60 minutes for the next flight, or take a
taxi for NZ$35.  Finally, one of the taxi drivers said he'd take me back to
town for NZ$25 (US$18), so I took him up on the offer.  An interesting taxi
driver to say the least, he kept offering to both get me a girl for the
night, and drive me all the way down to Rotorua (an famous hot springs area
in the south that's a long trip by car).  Finally, I reached the "hotel" I'd
be staying at, a nice little dive called "Chateau Maples" that was much like
the Sydney hotels -- old, small private rooms with shared baths at NZ$48
(US$34.50) a night.  It was clean and quiet though, and I stayed there for
two nights.
   The next morning, I noticed a sign on the front of Chateau Maples saying
that it was to be torn down in a few months.  I asked the man at the counter
about it, and he said yes, the owner had decided to tear it down and put up
a high-rise condo in its place.  It always makes me sad when I see this kind
of thing happen.  There's a need for places like Chateau Maples in every
city, and more and more of them are being torn down.  It reminded me of a
similar place in Hong Kong called "Soldiers and Sailors", that was
demolished to make way for a high-rise condo, yet the last time I was in
Hong Kong (1995), about five years after it was torn down, nothing had been
built in its place, and an empty hole now sits in the ground next to the


   There isn't too much to say about Auckland.  During my trip, almost all
the Kiwis I met told me there was nothing much to Auckland, and not to spend
too much time there.  All I can say is, they were right.
   I set aside an entire day to look around Auckland, thinking that it
probably wouldn't be enough time, yet after 3 hours, I was on the phone to
Ansett, trying to get the next flight out.  Unfortunately, nothing was
available.  I was stuck having to spend the whole day there.
   I'm not sure why I disliked Auckland so much, and I probably shouldn't be
so harsh on it.  There's nothing wrong with the city... but there just
wasn't anything much to it either.  I suppose if you're visiting New
Zealand, you can fill up a day in Auckland as I finally wound up doing, but
I would recommend spending as little time as possible there, especially
considering all the other wonderful places New Zealand has to see.

   After walking around downtown Auckland for a bit -- and being unable to
get an earlier flight out -- I decided to take the ferry to Devonport, a
nice, wealthy suburb of Auckland, separated by water.  On Devonport, I took
a short bus tour that took us to the top of some lookouts and around the
historic homes of the city.  After walking around a bit myself, I took the
ferry back to Auckland.
   United Airlines runs what they call the "Auckland Explorer Bus", a tour
bus that stops by some of the major tourists areas of the city each hour,
where you can get on and off at each stop.  It's a good idea, but since it
runs only hourly, it's not that convenient, especially if you just miss it.
However, not knowing what else to do, I bought myself a ticket (NZ$15) and
climbed aboard the English-style double-decker bus.  While on the way to the
Auckland Museum, I got a good look around the city from the front seat of
the upper deck.

   The Lonely Planet gives the Auckland Museum a thumbs up, and while it was
nothing extraordinary, it was still quite enjoyable.  Probably the best
thing about the museum is the Maori exhibit, and the twice-daily show on
Maori culture.  The museum itself is free, though there's a charge for the
Maori show.
   While the native Aboriginals of Australia are black, the native people of
New Zealand (Maori) are Polynesian, and are similar to ethnic Hawaiians. 
It's interesting to note that the Polynesians settled on many different
islands throughout the Pacific region, stretching from Hawaii to New
Zealand, but for some reason, skipped Australia entirely (passing it by for
New Zealand).
   While in the museum, I caught the afternoon Maori Cultural show.  It
began by taking the audience around some of the Maori items in the museum
and explaining what each one was for.  Some of the more impressive items
were a large, hand-carved canoe, and a typical ancient Maori house in which
to greet guests.  Once that part of the tour ended, the show began, with
Maori music and dancing.  There was a call for a volunteer from the
audience, but not one person raised their hand.  So, I decided to raise
mine, and became the volunteer du jour.  The demonstration was on how a
Maori tribe would greet visitors in days of old, and my job was to watch,
stone-faced, as a half-naked Maori man started acting crazy, moving all
about, screaming, yelling, and sticking his tongue out at me (a traditional
symbol of Maori strength/defiance).  He then began approaching me, tongue
wiggling, acting absolutely crazy, and suddenly, I found it very hard to
keep a straight face.  I couldn't HELP but but start cracking up, and the
Maori lady standing next to me kept saying "don't laugh... don't laugh... he
might kill you if you laugh at him..."  I kept thinking "dead puppies...
dead puppies..." or any other horrific thought I could imagine to keep me
from losing it.  I sucked in my mouth, still trying to keep from laughing,
but when someone is standing inches away, screaming and wiggling his tongue
at you, I assure you, it's not easy keeping a straight face.  Thankfully, I
somehow managed it, and the Maori "tribesman" set down a peace offering (in
this case, some leaves), which I was to pick up and accept.  I did so, the
Maori tribesman nodded, and the demonstration was over.  The rest of the
show consisted of traditional Maori music and dancing, and altogether, was
quite enjoyable.

   Outside the museum, I caught the United Explorer Bus to continue on.  The
double-decker bus had been replaced with an old, one-story bus.  One of the
younger Maori dancers got on board (it was her ride home), and of course,
off-stage, she's as average a New Zealand teenager as anyone else.  The
show's just a job, and when it's over, life goes back to listening to rock
music on the walkman and talking rugby with the driver.
   I decided not to make any more stops (they didn't seem that interesting),
and just took the bus back downtown.  I sat in front, and the bus driver
(whose microphone on this old bus was broken, so she couldn't give a
commentary to the passengers), the Maori dancer, and I had an interesting
conversation, talking about New Zealand and America.  One thing that's
immediately apparent is what big rugby fans the Kiwis are.  As baseball is
America's favorite sport, rugby is easily New Zealand's favorite.
   Upon returning back downtown, it was still only late afternoon, so I
decided to check out the high tower you can see anywhere in Auckland -- the
Sky City Casino complex.  This is a huge hotel/gambling casino/sky tower
being built by the American firm Harrahs (which owns a casino in Las
Vegas).  The hotel and casino are finished, but they're still putting the
finishing touches on the Sky Tower.  When completed, it should give a nice
view of Auckland and its environs, but since the tower wasn't open yet, I
went to check out the casino.

   I've never liked gambling.  Money, in my profession, is too hard-earned
for me to waste by throwing it away on a gambling table.  However, ever
since I was a young child, I've always loved slot machines.  Not for the
gambling aspect of it, but for the actual machine.  When I was a kid, I used
to bug my parents to buy me toy slot machines everywhere I saw them.  Even
on a recent trip to Las Vegas, the only gambling I did was on the 5c
slots -- knowing ahead of time that I wasn't gambling, so much as playing it
like a video game -- spending a few dollars for a few minutes of fun.  (I've
also been trying to buy one myself to have at home, but the only ones I can
find for sale are old, antiquated ones in the $3000-$4000 range, so I'm
still looking...)
   Well, I entered the Sky City Casino, and it was as if I was in Las Vegas.
The Casino isn't New Zealand's first casino (that dubious honor belongs to
one in Christchurch), but it's New Zealand's second, and while I was told
the Christchurch casino is more of the exclusive type, the Auckland Sky City
Casino was pure neon, noise, and Las Vegas.
   I made my way over to the slot machines, and found that over half were of
the new, electronic video type.  Hating those (I don't consider them real
slot machines), I found some of the old mechanical ones I like (my favorite
being one called "Red White and Blue"), and started having fun.  I set aside
NZ$10 (US$7.20) for me to blow on the 10c slots -- giving me at least 100
turns -- and started pulling those levers.  After only 3 tries, I won a
jackpot.  I thought about walking away, but the whole purpose of me being
there was to have some fun, so I changed some of the coins into bills,
assuring I'd still come out a little ahead, then went back to have some more
fun.  I had my fun, and soon was running out of coins.  Oh well, I thought,
at least I still came out ahead because of the coins I cashed in earlier...
but then, with just a few coins left, I hit a jackpot again.  Well, this
time, having had my fun, I took all the coins and cashed them back into
bills.  When I entered the casino, I had NZ$10 to waste on the slots, and,
after a bit of fun, was leaving with NZ$20 and a free newspaper.
   After playing the slots, I had a look around the rest of the casino.  The
tables were filled with gamblers (including lots of Chinese tourists who had
flown to Auckland, no doubt, just to gamble here), betting on everything
from roulette to poker to 21.  I sat down on an empty chair at a 21 table
and just watched for a while.  People won and lost, but most eventually lost
what they came with.  After a while, I left, spending the $10 I won on a
taxi back, and some dinner.

SOUTH ISLAND                                                          

   The next morning, I took the first flight of the day from Auckland into
Christchurch, on the south island.  I rented a car at the airport, deciding
to look around Christchurch later in the trip, and headed up to Greymouth,
via Arthur's Pass.
   This is a beautiful road to take, and even though it was mid-summer, the
trip was filled with mist-covered mountains, purple wildflowers, and
snow-capped peaks.  Along the way, there'd be the occasional stop for cattle
crossing the road, and all throughout, you're surrounded by gorgeous
mountain scenery all the way to the top of the pass.
   At the top, I stopped for some lunch at the little restaurant there.  I
ordered a "toasted ham & cheese sandwich," which turned out to be the best
I'd tasted on the trip, though the hot chocolate was watered down way too
   In both Australia and New Zealand, it's always easy to find quick food to
go.  While only the larger towns have the McDonalds and Hungry Jacks, there
are plenty of places to pick up other food at roadside restaurants or
stores.  Most common would be food under a heat lamp (meat/chicken/pork
patties, meat pies, fish & chips, etc), but many places also served "toasted
sandwiches" (what Americans call "grilled sandwiches").  More often than
not, they would, in fact, be grilled, though some places did use a healthier
toaster-over to toast the sandwiches.  Generally, they're thin, with only
one slice of whatever you want, but they're cheap too -- usually around
$2-$3 in both New Zealand and Australia (US$1.45-$2.40).


   The drive back down from Arthur's Pass is nice also, and before long,
you're arriving into Greymouth, the largest town on the south island's
northwest coast.  The Lonely Planet Guide raved about the drive between
Greymouth and Westport, so I decided to take it, even though I'd be spending
the night in Hokitika (in the opposite direction).  The drive is nice, but I
didn't find it to be as awe-inspiring as the Lonely Planet made it out to
be.  It's a thin, winding road through seaside cliffs and actually resembles
the California coast somewhat (perhaps that's why I wasn't so inspired by
it -- because it's something I can see at home).  To be fair though, I think
the road is better viewed driving in the Westport -> Greymouth direction
rather than the Greymouth -> Westport direction that I took.
   There are a few interesting spots along the way that are worth stopping
at though, and one of them is Punakaiki (also known as the Pancake Rocks).
This is an area filled with layered rocks that look like stacks of pancakes
all along the coast, and when the tide is right, there's a blowhole.  It
also seems to be a favorite hang-out spot for the local seal population.
   For the drive back from Westport -> Greymouth, I decided to take the
less-direct circular inland route to have a look around.  The area is
somewhat spartan, but still filled with beautiful scenery that is typical of
the entire south island.


   I spent the evening in a small town called Hokitika.  I figured it would
be closer to the glaciers than Greymouth, and, as a smaller town, nicer.  It
   I arrived into town late, but there was still plenty of sunlight.  After
checking into a nice B&B called Teichelmann's, I went out for a walk. 
There's a nice clock-tower in the center of town, and many old, historic
buildings, including an old library building that the town is trying to
refurbish.  Hokitika's main industry, if you could call it that, is the
working of greenstone (jade) and all the shops in the area have jade for
sale in their windows.
   I grabbed a late dinner at a coffee shop on the main street, and actually
sat outside, it was so nice.  It was past 8:00pm, but was still as sunny as
a 4:00pm afternoon in Los Angeles.  Waiting for that dinner reminded me that
unless you're ordering fast-food or pre-made food, meals are not exactly
served with speed in New Zealand.  After a while, I moved inside, and a good
20-30 minutes after I ordered just eggs and toast, it finally came, even
though there were only a few other people in the restaurant.
   Though I spent only a short evening in town, I really liked Hokitika, and
it's a good place for anyone planning on visiting the glaciers to stay.


   There are two large glaciers on New Zealand's south island: Franz Josef
Glacier, and Fox Glacier.  They're relatively close to each other -- only
about 30 minutes apart by car -- and unlike most glaciers in the world which
are retreating, both glaciers here are advancing.
   The road through the area is narrow and steep, and there are plenty of
hairpin curves.  Just for the stretch between the two glaciers themselves,
you must first go up, then down the mountain three times.  Unlike similar
mountain roads in the U.S., there are no mirrors on the curves, and you must
constantly be alert for those drivers who play fast and loose with the
concept of staying in their lane (not to mention the odd large tour bus or
three).  Forget about passing on this road too -- there are no passing
lanes, and very few chances to pass.  Still, the road cuts through plenty of
beautiful scenery, and that day, I wound up seeing it three times.
   The night before, at Teichelmann's, I was flipping through a brochure of
various tours available at the glaciers.  One in particular interested me: a
hiking tour out onto the glacier itself.  For this, there was a choice of a
full-scale hike up the glacier (6 hours) or, for NZ$155 (US$111), you could
take a "heli-hike", where you're flown high up onto the the glacier in a
helicopter, then left to hike around as a group for 2 hours.  The price was
a bit steep, but I figured I'd be here only once, so decided to go for it. 
I called, and booked the last empty seat for the next morning.
   The heli-hike was available only at Fox Glacier, so I first had to drive
to Franz Joself, then go onto Fox.  When I reached Fox and checked in, we
all went into the back room to put on special snow-boots and get overcoats,
but the weather on the mountain looked uncertain.  Sure enough, the weather
was declared bad, and we were told to wait for a bit -- that it might clear
up.  The weather down below was actually fine, but there was too much cloud
cover at the point where we were to set down.  An hour or two passed, and
then the word came down that the clouds still hadn't cleared.  We were told
that if we wanted, we could wait for a 2:00pm flight, but at this point, I
didn't want to waste anymore time just sitting around a mountain lodge. 
Clinching the decision was when a couple also waiting for the heli-hike told
us that the same thing had happened the previous day, and all the flights
then were cancelled as well.  So, after getting a refund, I headed back to
Franz Josef (the better of the two glaciers), to look around.
   The Franz Josef Glacier is very accessible.  The glacier is only about a
15-minute walk from the car park, and you can walk right up to the base of
it.  You're supposed to climb it only with guided supervision, though it's
very easy to just hike around the base a bit.  It's a huge glacier, going
all the way up the mountain, and there are several waterfalls on the nearby
cliffs.  Running from the base of the glacier is a stream (yes, a moving
stream, at least in the summer).  I dipped my hand in for just a second, and
it almost froze.  The water is absolutely freezing -- feeling colder than
the actual ice, if that's possible.
   After looking around Franz Josef, I drove back to Fox Glacier, but
instead of stopping, just continued on towards Wanaka.  The drive south from
the glaciers takes you over Haast Pass, and then through some of the most
goregous views you'll see in New Zealand, especially as Lake Hawea comes
into view.
   On this drive to Wanaka, you pass two lakes -- Lake Hawea first, then
Lake Wanaka, and though I didn't stop at Lake Hawea, I was constantly
stopping off the side of the road to take pictures.  Throughout the area,
there was purple and yellow wildflowers all along the side of the road, and
Lake Hawea in the background, with the deepest shade of blue I've ever seen.


   Wanaka is a small lakeside town located just an hour from Queenstown.  It
is a nice town to stay in, and anyone considering a visit to the region
should forget touristy Queenstown, and stay in Wanaka.
   Wanaka is small, and the accomidations are often full, especially in the
summer.  I wound up staying at the Fairway Lodge Motel in a large room (the
only one they had left), though they gave it to me at the single-room rate).
   Immediately after checking in, I drove a few blocks to the "downtown"
area -- just one main street loacated at the bottom of a hill, across from
Lake Wanaka.  There are some nice side-streets to walk up, with a nice mix
of restaurants, cafes, takeaways, and various shops.
   It was after 6:00pm, but there was still plenty of sunlight left for the
day.  I sat down on the sand facing Lake Wanaka, just watching the ducks
waddle in and out of the water, as some boats floated leisurely by.
   Around 7:00pm, I walked up the hill along the main street to get some
dinner.  There was a classy pizza joint that seemed pretty busy, so I
ordered a pizza to go, figuring I'd take it back to the motel with me, where
I needed to do my laundry.  I ordered the pizza, but was told it'd be 45
minutes before it was ready.  So much for speedy service.
   While waiting, I walked around the shops, and noticed a movie flyer on an
old building.  It was the town hall, and it had been converted -- for the
weekend -- into a cinema.  Every weekend, two different movies are shown,
and had I not already seen them, and had dirty laundry waiting back at the
motel, I certainly would have bought myself a ticket.  However, I still
wanted to see how they converted the town hall into a cinema, so I walked
into the lobby while the movie "The First Wives Club" was in progress. 
Indeed, the town hall looked like a town hall, not a cinema, but every
weekend, it magically turns into one.  All along the walls of the lobby were
posters of movies -- American, European, Australian and New Zealand films,
past and present, and two workers were finishing setting up the snack
table.  I talked a bit to one of them, and he seemed quite a film buff.  It
was about to be intermission, and soon, people would be coming out to buy
cookies and drinks.  I asked him if movies always had intermissions in New
Zealand.  His reply was "In Wanaka they do... in order to give people a
break, and sell snacks to raise the money to get the films" (there is an
admission charge, but it was much less than what would be charged by one of
the large city cinemas).
   When intermission came, the doors opened, and I had a look inside the
"cinema".  There was a fair-sized screen, and for the audience, just about
every type of seating you could imagine, from old dilapidated couches to
school chairs, to recliners -- all thrown together haphazardly into a cozy
square room, in order to magically transform it into a small-town cinema.
   After picking up dinner, I went back to the motel to do my laundry, and
watched "The Killing Fields" on the in-house TV channel.  It was a good
movie that I had seen before, but I almost wished I had stayed in town to
see the late show at the Wanaka "cinema".


   The next morning, I set out early for Queenstown, stopping first along
the way at an old mining town named Arrowtown.  In its heyday, Arrowtown was
a bustling center for gold mining, but today, is only a quiet reminder of
what it once was.  Still, many of the old buildings still stand, and it's
anything but dead -- many people live in the small town, and in the area
around it.
   There's a very good museum in Arrowtown that has rooms filled items from
the gold rush days -- from tools to dresses to pianos.  There's also an
exhibit on the Chinese immigrants who came during the gold rush era of the
1800s.  They played an important part in New Zealand history, setting up
small Chinatowns in most of the mining communities and finding gold in many
of the claims already abandoned by the white miners.  When the gold ran out,
many left to return to China, while others remained -- their descendants
still living in New Zealand today.
   The museum is definitely worth a stop for anyone passing by -- it's much
more interesting and detailed than you might suspect from just looking
around the lobby.


   After having a look at Arrowtown, I set off for Queenstown, the largest
town (and major tourist center) of the area.  I planned to spend 5-6 hours
there, and that's pretty much what I did.
   Queenstown is nice, but is crowded, and totally tourism-based.  Someone
made the crack that the entire town is owned by the Japanese.  Well, I don't
know about it being owned by the Japanese, but it certainly is THE major
tourist area of the region, and there were enough tourists around (Japanese
and non-Japanese alike) to make you wonder if anyone actually lives there. 
Just about everything in town is designed to take money from you, and there
are plenty of ways to have it done.
   The town itself is pleasant, albeit nothing special, with the main
attraction in Queenstown being adventure.  If you want to go bungee jumping
(available both from a bridge, or from a flying helicopter), skydiving,
jet-boating, white-water rafting, parapenting (a mix between a parachute and
a hang-glider), or parachuting, Queenstown has it -- with just about every
business in Queenstown having a tour-booking office to book it for you.
   The first thing I did upon arriving was take the aeiral tram up to the
top of the local mountain for the view.  This is also the spot from which
the parapenting takes off, and of course, there was yet another tour booking
desk there at the top.  I inquired about parapenting, and booked myself on
one for 1:00pm (at NZ$110).  I then went back down to have a look around
Queenstown, parking the car on one of the main streets.
   In Queenstown (and other parts of New Zealand as well), they have
interesting parking meters.  Instead of having a meter for each space, they
simply paint the spaces with a number.  Then, there's one box that handles
up to four parking spaces -- you press a button corresponding to what space
you've parked in (1, 2, 3, or 4) and put your coins in.  An LCD display
shows you the time remaining, and at any time, you can go up to the box,
press your space number, and see how much time you have left...

   I walked around the city a bit, but truthfully, it wasn't too exciting.
Imagine a city where every shop is a gift shop, restaurant, fashion
boutique, or tour booking desk.  I couldn't find a normal store at all --
only expensive shops catering to tourists.  Queenstown feels almost like a
clean, expensive Tijuana, in that everything -- absolutely everything around
you -- is geared solely for tourists.
   After just killing time walking around, I got in the car and drove back
to the base of the aeiral tram to meet the parapenting guide.  (If I had
known that a ride on the tram would be included with parapenting, I wouldn't
have paid money in the morning to take the tram up).  I met the guide, and
along with two young kids, took the tram up to the top.  Once at the top
though, the guide informed me that I wouldn't be able to go, because between
myself and the guide (it's a tandum jump where the guide steers), we were
over the weight limit.  I was a little disappointed, but truthfully, not all
that much so.  I got a refund, looked around a bit from the top again,
before heading back down and out of town.

TE ANAU (Part I)

   That aftenoon, I drove to Te Anau, a beautiful little town nestled in the
southern end of the south island.  Like Queenstown, Te Anau gets a lot of
tourists (because of its proximity to the fiords), but unlike Queenstown, Te
Anau has somehow managed to remain small, beautiful, and utterly charming.
   I checked into a nice B&B called the "Matai Lodge", located on a quiet
residential street.  This is a great place to stay.  Richard, the friendly,
slightly neurotic host, is an ex-Brit who moved to New Zealand and runs the
   After dropping off my bag, I asked Richard if there were any sheep farms
in the area that one could visit, and there just happened to be one. 
Located a few kms outside of Te Anau is Glen Monarch farm, run by an
interesting fellow named Graham Johnston.  Graham raises sheep, cattle, and
deer (with the deer antlers going to Asia), though sheep is the primary
livestock.  With the farm economy the way it is in New Zealand now, Graham
gives tours of his farm to earn some extra money, and to show people what
life is like on a real farm.  Though the tour usually lasts 2.5 hours, I
wound up staying for almost five.
   When I first arrived, Graham and his friend Jodi sat down and talked to
me a bit about farm life in New Zealand.  It's economically very difficult
to make a living raising livestock right now.  Unlike the U.S., the New
Zealand government doesn't have artifical price supports for farm products,
or offer much help to farmers.  The price of livestock is set solely by the
marketplace, and if the price drops too low, farmers go bankrupt -- and the
price for livestock, meat, and wool is very low right now.  Graham mentioned
repeatidly that he should sell his cattle, because with the way prices are,
he's losing money every day he keeps them, but he loves his stock (they're
fine cows), and just can't bare to get rid of them.  Even the price of wool
is low, and he hardly gets anything for what he sells.  Graham himself
wasn't raised on a farm, but said he always liked working outdoors, and
decided to become a farmer years ago.  One of his complaints was that his
way of life is one that seems to be fading away, as more and more farmers
leave the business.  According to Graham, between the low prices for the
product, and the New Zealand government's unwillingness to do anything about
farmers' problems, it's very, very hard right now for an independent farmer
to make a living.  It's a hard life, and there are few rewards.
   After some juice and a chat, Graham took a sheep, and showed me how the
shearing is done.  Taking an electric shaver, he sheared the entire sheep in
under a minute, then did another one, giving me a piece of its wool as a
souvenir.  The sheared wool goes into a box, and is sent almost as-is to
someone else, who will clean it and get it ready for turning it into fabric.
The sheep protest a bit, but really don't put up that much of a fight during
the shearing, and once the shearing is done, they just wander back out onto
the paddock (field), not seeming to mind.  If a sheep isn't sheared, its
wool can become so heavy after a while that the sheep might tip over on its
side and be unable to get up.  I saw this firsthand.  While driving around
the farm, we came across a sheep that had tipped over because of its full,
heavy coat of wool.  It had been trying to get up, but was unable to do so,
no matter how hard it tried.  If we hadn't come along and helped it up, it
would have eventually died there on its side.
   Graham keeps track of his sheep by placing colored nametags on each and
every one of them.  The color is a code, identifying not only the year the
sheep was born, but any other important information as well, such as health
problems, or if it's been a recent mother.
   Sheep are dumb.  There's no other way to say it.  Cows are geniuses next
to sheep.  Sheep do nothing but graze all day, looking up only if they hear
a noise -- and as they stand there with their idotic expressions going
"baaaaah", they have to be the stupidest-looking animals on the face of the
earth.  Sheep also have a mob-mentality mindset.  If a sheepdog can get a
few of the sheep to go through a gate, the rest of the herd will usually
follow blindly, becoming one giant moving blob of white.
   Graham has four sheepdogs, and took two of them out with us while showing
me around.  They are indispensible, and the farmer's job would be almost
impossible without them.  Any given farm might contain dozens of fenced
paddocks (fields), and it's the job of the sheepdog to herd and corral the
sheep from one area to another.  On the day I visited, Graham discovered
that many of the gates separating the various paddocks had been left open --
one of the worst things that can happen on a sheep farm.  He suspected some
young kids passing through his place to go fishing had just left the gates
open, and was upset as hell about it -- with good reason.  I spent the next
four hours with him crossing the entire farm in his jeep, trying to recover
all the sheep that had wandered to the far corners of the farm.  Graham
would have an even larger job the next day, when he'd have to go and
separate the sheep again, once they've all been found (the lambs are kept
apart from the ewes, and given the best grazing areas, since the ewes will
eat practically anything).  With almost every gate left open, the sheep were
now inter-mixed, and wandering off to places they shouldn't be.
   Graham and I spent four hours driving over the farm's hilly terrain in
his jeep, looking for sheep, and sending out the sheepdogs to help when some
were found.  The dogs rode in back, and when sheep were spotted, Graham
would get out and have the dogs corral them from one fenced paddock to
another.  It was uncanny the way the dogs understood Graham's commands. 
He'd call them by name, and the appropriate one would repond.  He'd yell
"Come around!" and the dogs would get behind the sheep.  A different
command, and the dogs would catch some wandering sheep off by themselves,
and yet another command would have the dogs corral the entire herd of sheep.
When the sheep were heading in the right direction, Graham would yell at
them to stop, and the dogs would.  The only problem with the sheepdogs
seemed to be that, like humans, they could become jealous.  One of the
sheepdogs was mad that the other was being used, and didn't want to obey any
commands for a while.  Though there would be some occasional confusion with
the commands, in general, the dogs got it right most of the time, and
without their help, the day -- and sheep farming in general -- would be
almost impossible.  It was truly amazing to watch those sheepdogs in action.
   It was late into the evening with the sun slowly low in the horizon, when
we finally drove back to the house.  We had managed to corral most of the
wandering sheep together into one area, but Graham would have to waste the
next day sorting them all out again.  I thanked Graham and Jodi for their
hospitality, and drove back into town.  I suppose because of the incident
with the gates being open, I got much more of a tour than the normal visitor
gets, but if anyone is in the Te Anau area, I cannot recommend stopping by
the Glen Monarch farm enough.  Graham himself is of a hardy lot, and an
interesting fellow to meet, and it's a great way to finally understand a
little bit about what life is like on the hundreds of sheep farms you pass
all throughout the country.

   Back in town, I returned to the Matai Lodge to relax and make a phone
call, and I was both angered and pleased to know that the U.S. doesn't hold
the exclusive rights to Stupid Telephone Sales Agents.
   While in New Zealand, I wanted to get information about changing an
Ansett Australia flight (within Australia) that I was to take a few days
later.  Since Ansett Australia and Ansett New Zealand are part of the same
company, I called the nationwide New Zealand number for Ansett New Zealand,
and asked if they could help me with an Ansett Australia ticket.  The lady
who answered the phone said "sorry, the Australia desk closes at 5:00pm" (it
was after 8:00pm at the time).  I assumed this was similar to the U.S.,
where domestic airlines have 24hr telephone sales, but their international
desks (and many international airlines) often close in the evening.  This
made sense, so I asked a very simple question: if the Australia desk here in
New Zealand was already closed, could I please have the direct number for
the Ansett Australia office in Sydney, where they'd be able to help me with
Australian reservations, and would be open 24hrs.  I could just call them
direct and pay for the call myself.  The lady said "Oh, it won't do any good
sir.  This is still considered a holiday period, so all their calls are
routed here to New Zealand, and that desk is closed."  This made absolutely
no sense.  I repeated my request again, because it sounded like she didn't
understand.  "No," I said, "I don't need Ansett New Zealand.  I need to
change an Ansett AUSTRALIA flight that's a few days from now."  "They're
closed now, sir.  They close at 5:00pm."  "Yes, I understand that," I
replied.  "I understand that the Australian desk here in New Zealand is
closed.  But I'm asking for the direct number of your office in Sydney,
where they'll be open 24hrs, and can help me with Australian reservations. 
I'll just call them direct over there in Australia."  "Sir," the lady
repeated, "I just told you, they're closed.  All their calls get routed here
to the Australia desk, and they're closed now."  She still didn't
understand -- or was she just stupid?  What she was claiming was that
anytime someone IN AUSTRALIA picked up the phone to call their local Ansett
Australia number, the call would get routed to New Zealand (where of course,
they close at 5:00pm everyday).  I knew this wasn't true, because, while in
Australia, I had called Ansett late one evening and asked what their hours
were.  They were open 24hrs a day, 365 days a year.  Of COURSE the thousands
of hourly calls from all over Australia to Ansett Australia don't get
transferred to the tiny "Australia Desk at Ansett New Zealand, where they
close at 5:00pm" as the lady claimed.  But what could I do?  So I decided to
say "do you mean to tell me that if I were in Sydney right now -- not here
in New Zealand, but Sydney -- and I needed to make a reservation, I
couldn't, because it would transfer to New Zealand here, and that desk is
closed?"  "That's right, sir."  "Well, what if it was an emergency?  What if
I needed a flight tonight?"  "Well, you'd have to wait for tomorrow, sir." 
At this point, I thanked the lady and hung up.  I knew she was speaking
total nonsense, and had it confirmed yet again a few days later upon
returning back to Australia, when I was told once more that they were indeed
open 24hrs a day, 365 days a year.
   After speaking with this lady, I felt like I was back in New York, trying
to talk with a NYNEX operator or a ConEd representative -- all the while,
the owner of the lodge is standing beside me, lauging, as I repeat
everything she says to me.  Sigh.  But it didn't end there.  After this
little telephone game, I was more determined than ever to speak to someone
at Ansett.  I called the local operator and asked for overseas information
to get the number myself.  I listened in while the NZ operator asked the
Australian operator for the number.  The problem was, the only number listed
for reservations in Sydney was a "13" number -- a special number that can be
dialed anywhere within Australia for the price of a local call, but a number
that can ONLY be dialed from within Australia -- not from overseas.  So
while the reservations line in Australia was open 24hrs, the operator
couldn't find a suitable number for me to reach them from New Zealand.  The
only non-"13" number listed for Ansett was for air cargo, so in the end, I
decided to drop it and just forget the whole thing until the following
morning.  It just wasn't worth it.
   After giving up on Ansett, I sat down to watch a little TV in the lounge.
Richard (the owner) was hooked on a British soap, so I watched a bit of
that, but I was more interested in the TV TEXT system used in New Zealand.
It's the same system I saw in use in the UK, and it's something that would
be great to have here in America.  Basically, with just the press of a
button, you can pull up a text menu of just about any subject you can
imagine on your television set, from tomorrow's weather, to the top news
stories, to whose birthday it is today -- all menu-driven, and transmitted
along with the picture.  I'm not sure if such a system is compatible with
NTSC (the American TV standard), as the only places I've seen this in use
are the U.K. and New Zealand (both of which use the PAL TV system), but this
is one case where American TV technology definitely lags behind that of
other countries.  I'd love to see TV TEXT in the U.S.

   Milford Sound is an area on the South Island famous for fiords (fjords)
that every tourist visiting New Zealand seems to have on his itinerary, and
I was no exception.  I left early the next morning to take the famous drive
from Te Anau to Milford Sound.  While the drive isn't actually that long
(119km each way), it's slow, winding, and scenic, and I wanted to make sure
I left early enough to have time to stop along the way.
   All around Te Anau, you can find brochures with maps of the road, with
the special sights along the way marked.  Some of these marked sights are
definitely worth stopping at (such as the Mirror Lakes, with water so still,
the reflection of the mountain is like a perfect mirror), but if you want to
fully experience this road, be prepared to stop at a lot of places NOT
marked on the map -- and enjoy the challenge of trying to do so!
   This road is so narrow and winding -- especially for the last half --
that pulling over and stopping is no easy task.  For much of it, there is no
shoulder, and it occasionally becomes one-way for both directions.  Yet some
of the most spectacular scenery is along this road in areas where there are
no turnouts.  I constantly had to make my own turnouts, and park the car
(safely) where I could, though often it meant parking some distance from
where I wanted to stop, and walking back.  It was worth it though.  The
drive to Milford is as beautiful as Milford Sound itself, and if you don't
stop, you'll miss the spectacular mountain views, waterfalls, and streams
that decorate this winding road -- and they really ARE worth stopping for. 
One stream off to the right had water that was an incredible shade of pure,
turquoise blue.  I had never seen a stream with this intensity of color
before, and if I hadn't stopped and walked around, I would have missed it.
   As you keep driving along the road, there are snow-capped mountains
everywhere you look -- often, with patches of snow off the side of the road.
I couldn't believe there was still snow in the middle of summer, but this
whole area is pretty far south on the planet.
   Towards the end of the road, a few kms before reaching Milford, you come
to an interesting tunnel, dug right into the side of a mountain.  What's
interesting about this tunnel is that it doesn't LOOK like a tunnel.  It
looks like a hole that's just been blasted in the mountain last Tuesday. 
The tunnel is long, cold, damp, completely un-lit, and large enough only for
one-way traffic.  Before you enter, you must stop and make sure there are no
cars or tour buses coming towards you, because once inside the tunnel,
there's really no place to move aside.  Once it looks clear, you turn on
your lights (there are no lights in the tunnel), and start driving through,
slowly and carefully.  Then, somewhere in the middle -- out of nowhere --
buckets of water suddenly fall from the ceiling and hit your car.  You slow
down even more, and turn on the wipers.  Finally, you've reached the other
side, where, by now, a line of cars and tour busses has formed, waiting to
enter going the other direction.
   The "town" of Milford isn't really much of a town.  It basically consists
of a hotel, a restaurant, and a landing where the many tour boats depart
from.  It's also the final stop along the "Milford Track", a famous 4-day
walk that is so famous, you must now make reservations in order to walk the
track (often needed months in advance, so the sparse accomidations along the
way aren't overbooked).  I met a few people who walked the track, and all
spoke highly of it, especially because the often-changable weather in the
area had been particularly good lately.  I was lucky too -- on the day I
visited Milford Sound, I was told that Milford was in the middle of a
"drought" -- it had been five days since the last rain (this in an area
where the average rainfall is a whopping 5.5 metres, or almost 17 feet).
   I arrived in Milford Sound and had a light lunch at the restaurant
(toasted ham and cheese sandwich with a Deep Spring soda, of course) while I
waited for my cruise boat to depart.  A few days before, I had called and
booked myself on one of the "Red Boat" cruises that takes you around the
Sound for a few hours.  The boat I had selected was actually the only boat
in the Red Boat fleet that wasn't red, but it was the tour that stayed out
the longest (for the same price), and offered quite an enjoyable three
   The cruise boats are a great way to see Milford Sound.  Due to its
remoteness, the area is quiet and enjoyable.  (The only non-cruise boat we
encountered was a commercial fishing boat that happened to be in the area. 
We stopped for a bit to watch them fish and reel in the nets before moving
   A few minutes after departing, the cruise boats all stop at an underwater
aquarium/museum built to show visitors some of the many variations of sea
life in the area.  The small aquarium is made of glass (or clear plastic),
and as you walk down a spiral staircase, you can look out all around you and
feel completely submersed in water.  Both down below, and up on top, a staff
member talks about the history of the region, and points out some of the
different marine life you're likely to see in the area.
   After leaving the aquarium, the next three hours are spent cruising along
Milford Sound, viewing the spectacular scenery: the fiords, the cliffs, the
mountains, and the sea life.  Though there are seats inside, the best views
are, of course, from the outside decks of the boat, if you don't mind the
cold.  Luckily, on the day I went, it was only cool, not cold (and the
complimentary hot chocolate or coffee certainly helped).  The fiords are
quite stunning, and the sea life wasn't too bad either: we spotted plenty of
dolphins swimming alongside the boat, and colonies of seals resting up on
the rocks.  The cruise was friendly, informative, not too touristy, and
worth every cent.


   After the drive back from Milford Sound, I had the late afternoon and
evening to look around Te Anau again.  Because Te Anau is situated so far
south, it stays light until well past 10:00pm in the summer.  This means the
tiny town stays alive well into the evening.
   I walked along the main street of Te Anau, and checked out some of its
stores.  I looked inside the local electronics store, and couldn't believe
how high the prices were -- though to be fair, they were consistant with the
rest of New Zealand.  Americans are spoiled by the relatively low prices of
electronic goods, but the rest of the world isn't so lucky.  While there's
no additional sales tax on any item in NZ (the price you see is the price
you pay), the price of taxes (VAT) and tarrifs are built into the listed
price, and it's high -- maybe a good 40% higher than a similar item might
cost in the States.
   After walking down the business streets for a while, I veered off a bit,
and walked along the waterfront.  There, by the lake, I sat down and relaxed
in the late-afternoon feel of a 9:00pm evening.  The lake was quiet, and the
ducks were keeping busy by the shore.  After a while, I went to explore some
of Te Anau's residential streets.  Quiet and peaceful, with nice modest
homes, Te Anau's residential areas make for a good walk.  On the horizon are
the beautiful mountains of the area, and the town seems like a wonderful
place to settle down -- at least in the summer, with its long days and


   I was up early the next morning to start the drive from Te Anau to
Dunedin.  At first, I thought it would be a long trip, but it's not really
all that far.  Along the way, I passed through many small to mid-size towns,
and it's worth pointing out that in the same general area are two mid-sized
towns with interesting names: Clinton, and Gore.  To top it off, Gore is
considered the Country-Western Music Capital of New Zealand, and they host a
country-western festival there each year.  In Gore, I stopped to make some
phone calls, but didn't spend much time to look around.

   A few hours after leaving Te Anau, I arrived in Dunedin, New Zealand's
college town.  In the city, there are five universities, and the entire city
has a "youth" feel to it, much like an American college town.  Dunedin is
also known as the birthplace of many famous New Zealand rock bands.
   Dunedin itself is a town modelled after Scotland, and it shows in the
town's architecture.  Scattered around the hilly streets are old churches,
rail stations, and other buildings that might fool a visitor into thinking
he was suddenly in Edinbourough.  However, Dunedin is rather large, and
while it wasn't a bad city, I prefer the original Edinbourough much better.
   The first thing I did upon arriving was try to find a place to park.  In
Dunedin, this isn't easy.  I wanted to stop at the visitor's center, but the
only parking anywhere nearby was short-term metered parking.  So, after I
was finished at the visitor's center, I had to move the car to an expensive
parking garage to leave it for a few hours.
   At the visitor's center (where, even with five attendants on duty, the
lines were long and slow), you could book a room for the night, and a tour
for the afternoon.  I booked myself a cheap motel room outside the city
center, and asked about tours in the area.  One of the reasons I wanted to
visit Dunedin was to see the penguins that inhabit the nearby Otago
Peninsula.  There is a penguin "reserve" there, but tours of the reserve
must be booked in advance.  The other tour I had heard about was one at the
local Cadbury chocolate factory.  It had become quite a famous tour, often
being booked weeks in advance.  However, when I arrived at the visitor's
center, there was a recent newspaper article posted on the wall, reporting
that Cadbury -- with little warning -- had recently decided to stop giving
tours of their plant for the first time in years.  The article went on to
say that perhaps in the future, some sort of deal could be worked out with
the local tourism industry, but the tours had become so popular that Cadbury
just didn't want to be bothered anymore.  It would have been interesting to
see, but was nothing to lose sleep over.  I reserved myself a spot in the
afternoon at the penguin reserve, and went out to move the car.

   I had a few hours to walk around the city before I had to be at the
reserve, so I spent them exploring the streets of downtown Dunedin, just
wandering about.  One part of downtown has lots of offices and bank
buildings.  Another part is the major shopping area, with lots of small
boutiques, bookstores, and CD shops.  Along the way, I stopped in to check
my email at a local internet provider (as mentioned earlier), and just
checked out the city's various areas.
   Later that afternoon, I drove out onto the Otago Peninsula.  The
Peninsula itself is actually quite a beautiful place, and reminded me of
Palos Verdes Peninsula here at home (albeit more crowded).  It's the part of
town where the rich, small, waterfront homes with views are located, and has
quite a different feel than the rest of Dunedin.  Whereas downtown Dunedin
has the feel of youth and the happy poverty of university students, the
Peninsula has the feeling of wealth and retired folk.  The main road along
the peninsula curves alongside the water for most of the way, and there are
plenty of small dead-end streets that wind up the hill to the expensive
homes that dot the landscape.  Off on the water side are plenty of places to
tie up a boat, or take one out for a cruise.  The whole Peninsula is nice,
and definitely worth a visit, if in Dunedin.

   I arrived at the penguin reserve a litle early, so I first went to check
out a nearby beach.  No one was swimming in the water (too cold probably),
but there were a few people relaxing on the white sand, reading books, and
getting tans.  The most amazing thing was that joining the people on the
beach were a couple of seals -- quietly keeping to themselves, and relaxing
right at the edge of the sand.  As I watched, one seal soon became three,

then two more came and joined the group.  No one bothered the seals, and the
seals didn't seem to mind the people.  They just dozed off right there on
the sand in front of everyone, enjoying a lazy afternoon alongside the
   After watching the seals, I made my way back to the penguin reserve.  The
reserve is an interesting place.  It was founded by a man who wanted to give
the rare yellow-eyed penguins of the area a safe place to live.  It's funded
completely by private donations, and money from the tours.  What the reserve
does, is set aside a large area of protected land, then set up small penguin
"houses" for the penguins to live in.  Many of the materials that the
penguins would normally use as "natural" homes have been destroyed over the
years, so until nature can replenish such things, the artificial houses have
worked quite well.  Some of the penguins have even made homes out of things
that were not meant to be used as such (such as lookouts for the tourists). 
While on the tour, you can get pretty close to the penguins by observering
them from small huts that have been camouflauged so as not to bother the
penguins too much.  That day, we saw a lot of penguins wandering around,
including a father and son.  Interestingly, the baby penguin (brown-colored)
soon grows to be larger than the parents because of the constant feeding and
lack of exercise.  Once the baby is off on his own though, he will lose the
excess weight, and in time, gain the familiar black-and-white tuxedo look. 
Later, from the top of a cliff, we could look down onto the protected beach
below, and see the father penguins waddling out to sea to catch fish for
their young, then waddle back to bring it to them.
   Back in town, I returned to the small family-run motel I was staying at,
and had an interesting conversation with the owners that evening.  While the
daughter was barbecuing outside on the lawn, the mom and dad told me a bit
about New Zealand, with subjects ranging from the general Otago area to
petrol prices and taxes.  The dad took me in back to show me his car -- an
old Ford Falcon that at one time was a police car -- which he had converted
to run on either petrol (gasoline) or LPG (natural gas), showing me the LPG
tank in the trunk, and the switch in front to change back and forth between
the two.


   I woke up bright and early the next morning to drive to the Dunedin
airport, leave my car off, and catch an early Ansett New Zealand flight to
Christchurch.  An interesting side-note about Dunedin is that due to the
hilly nature of the area, the airport (requiring a large, flat area) is
located quite far from the center of town -- a good 40 minute drive, even
without traffic.
   I was scheduled to fly back to Australia on a Qantas flight out of
Christchurch later that afternoon, but in the meantime, I would have at
least five or six hours to look around the city.  I arrived with plenty of
time to spare, but was hardly taken aback by the town.  Christchurch is a
city that most people rave about, but I had almost the opposite reaction. 
I'm not sure why.  The day was gloomy and overcast, but even had it been
sunny, I doubt it would have made much difference.  The town just didn't
appeal to me -- perhaps because I had seen similar sights in other cities I
visited.  I'm not sure why, but I was thoroughly unimpressed with the city.
   After arriving at the Christchurch airport, I left my backpack in an
electronically-timed locker, and went to catch a shuttle bus into town.  I
boarded the airport shuttle, but before leaving the grounds, the van stopped
to pick up a group of college-aged students needing a ride into town.  It
turned out that the group was to be on an expidition to Antarctica, but had
to wait yet another day because of bad weather in Antarctica.  We started
talking during the long drive into town (made even longer by having to drop
people off along the way), and their trip sounded fascinating.  They would
spend a few weeks down there doing experiments.  For most of them, it was
their first time, but for one of the Americans, it would be his third.  They
had been trying for days to fly out, but each time, weather conditions along
the way were deemed too harsh, and once more yet again, they would have to
wait, stay in town, and try again tomorrow.
   After finally reaching downtown and parting from the group, I decided to
walk around Christchurch and check it out, but soon became very bored with
town.  Having more than a few hours to kill though, I took out my Lonely
Planet guide, and walked to some of the various points of interest -- but
even these were disappointing.  The bontanical gardens were so-so at best,
and the museums in the area seemed to have more closed doors than open
ones.  I wound up spending my time at the local Qantas office changing a
ticket (while getting a fairly nice view of the city from the window), and
reading the local paper at a corner deli over lunch.  Finally, when the time
came to be picked up by the airport shuttle, I was almost relieved.
   When I arrived back at airport, it suddenly was a thousand times busier
than it had been that morning.  It reminded me of LAX at holiday time. 
There were so many people at the airport, that the guards were allowing only
those showing tickets to even be in the lobby.
   After checking in for the flight, I stopped in at the Qantas desk to
physically re-ticket a Qantas flight that I had changed at the downtown
Qantas office.  It was here where there was to be a $50 change fee (as
mentioned earlier), but the agent, nicer than her counterpart at United
would ever be, changed the ticket with a smile, saying "well, there's
supposed to be a $50 change fee, but just forget about it."  Before long, I
was on my way back to Australia.

AUSTRALIA AGAIN!                                                   

   I cannot say enough nice things about the city of Melbourne.  I suppose
the best way to sum it up is that if I had to pick a city to live in in
Australia, it'd be Melbourne.  It's not that there's anything spectacularly
wonderful about the city -- there's not.  But it has a charm and atmosphere
that few cities its size anywhere in the world can match.  It's a very
livable city in every way -- from the moderate climate, to the extensive
network of charming old electric trams that ply the city's streets, to the
friendliness of the people that live there.  It seemed the perfect-sized
city as well: large enough to have anything you might want, yet not too
large for its own good.
   The first thing I did upon arriving was find a place to stay.  The Lonely
Planet recommended a place called "Toad Hall", a cheap place with tiny,
private rooms.  For the first night, the single rooms were booked, but they
offered to give me a slightly larger room at almost the single rate (still
much cheaper than any other place would have been).  Toad Hall is privately
run, but has the feel of a backpacker's hostel.  Though the rooms are
private, they're very tiny (with shared bath), and there's a communal
kitchen and outdoor garden to eat and relax in.  The staff is extremely
friendly though, and the place is tidy, clean, and run by the book -- an
excellent budget place to stay at while visiting Melbourne.
   After dropping off my bag, I started walking down the street towards the
city center.  It was around dinnertime, and one of the stores I passed along
the way was the local Tandy (Radio Shack) store.  I hadn't been inside an
Australian Tandy store yet, and was dying to have a peek.  Unfortunately, it
was closed, but I returned the next day to check it out.  When I asked about
the Color Computer, I didn't expect anyone to know what I was talking about
(since it was discontinued five years ago), but was surprised to find that
one of the clerks there knew all about it (though the other clerk had
absolutely no idea).  It just so happens that just a few weeks prior, a
gentleman from somewhere in Australia (probably another die-hard CoCo user),
called up, trying to track down any remaining Color Compter supplies, and
the store had shipped whatever they had left to him.  Still, it was
interesting to look around the store.  The Tandys in Australia (much like
those I visited in Scotland back in 1992), carry brand name products other
than those officially marketed by Tandy.  For instance, they sell Sega game
machines, and products by companies like Akai and Casio, as well as their
own "in-house" brands.
   After passing the closed Tandy store that first afternoon, I soon came to
Melbourne's interesting downtown shopping area.  The first thing that caught
my eye was the incredibly elaborate and ornate displays in the windows of a
local department store.  Each window's display had a different theme (Peter
Pan, Cinderella, etc.), and each was intricately constructed, with sound,
and moving animatronic characters.  Each indicated in what year it was
originally built, and one window was set aside for the new display. 
Outside, music pumped from outdoor speakers, and people gathered -- even
weeks after Christmas -- to watch the displays.
   Just a little bit down from this department store was a well-known store
to Americans and Australians alike: Target.  Yes, I finally made it inside
an Australia Target, and had a chance to look around (while in high school,
I, too was a "Targeteer").  The stocks and in-house brands were different
than those found in American Targets, but the store had the same clean, well
laid-out appearance as those at home.  Perhaps the only difference was that
this store (in a 4-story building) took up two floors rather than the
standard one story size of most American Targets.
   One nice thing about the central shopping area in Melbourne is that it's
closed to cars.  Only pedestrian traffic and trams are allowed, making it
convenient, quiet, and a much better atmosphere in which to shop and relax.
   After looking around the area a bit more, I decided to walk back to Toad
Hall and try to get some sleep.  However, I had a bit of bad luck.  That
first night when all the singles were booked, the only room available was
one over the outdoor garden -- where people cooked, ate, talked, and laughed
well into the morning.  Even though they weren't excessivly noisy, I wasn't
able to get much sleep at all.  Luckily, the next day, I was able to change
to a tiny room on the other side of the building, where I got a much-needed
good-night's sleep that second night.
   After arranging to change rooms, I began my next day in Melbourne early,
and the first thing I did was visit the nearby Victoria Market.  The market,
which is right next to Toad Hall, and can best be described as what you'd
get if you mixed a farmers market with a swap meet.  Rows and rows of fresh
fruit, veggies, meats, cheeses, and cakes were in one area, with just as
many rows of shampoos, radios, and toys in another -- all inside a building,
or under a tarp.  I looked around for a bit, but soon wanted to go explore
the rest of the city.
   I started by boarding one of the many green electric trams that you see
all around Melbourne.  These trams are one of the best things the city has
going for it.  They make getting anywhere you want to go in town easy and
inexpensive, and keep the pollution down as well.  For one low price (about
US$3.50), you can buy an all-day pass that's valid throughout the general
downtown area (and for just a bit more, you can buy a pass that's valid for
the outlying areas as well).  The trams are quick and frequent, and I never
had to wait more than a few minutes for one to come by.  I started the
morning out first by taking random tram trips just to have a look at the
city, but soon decided to head toward the the train station.
   The area by the central Melbourne train station is interesting, and gives
you a good glimpse of the old mixed nicely with the new.  Alongside old
cathedrals and stately buildings are new shiny skyscrapers, but nothing that
rudely sticks out of the skyline.  Nearby is the performing arts center and
theatre complex, and there are plenty of nice bridges from which to look out
over the river.  This is the busiest part of town, and it's interesting to
explore the area during the business day, when you get a good feel for the
hustle-and-bustle of the city.
   After seeing the downtown area, I boarded another tram to the botanical
gardens.  Unlike Christchurch's gardens, the Melbourne Botanical Gardens
were impressive.  I'm really not one for such places, but I have to admit, I
spent a few hours here, walking around and relaxing in the gardens!  In the
center of it all is a large pond, where you can sit down and feed the ducks
and swans (food available from the gift shop for a few cents).  Even if you
don't feel that botanical gardens are "your thing", make sure and visit
those in Melbourne, and take a little time to relax in them.  You'll be glad
you did.
   After the gardens, while waiting for a tram outside a corner market, I
noticed a sign mentioning that farm hands were needed at a farm somewhere in
inland Victoria.  Victoria (the state Melbourne is located in), is famous
for agriculture, and many locals and tourists alike earn their way for a
short time by working on farms.  Signs and brochures are posted at youth
hostels and backpackers lodges advertising various short-term farm labor
positions available.  Many backpackers and wanderers do this kind of work
during the appropriate seasons to earn some money, and it has become an
accepted practice.  Unlike in the U.S., where most Americans wouldn't be
caught dead doing manual farm labor, many Australians (and visiting
backpackers and drifters), eagerly sign up for work on the farms, to earn
some extra income before moving on.
   Soon, the tram for the Rialto Tower arrived.  The building is nothing
special (it's not even the tallest in the city), but it has the city's only
real observation deck.  Before going to the roof, you're shown a 20-minute
film on Melbourne.  While the film is blatant propaganda (on what a
wonderful city Melbourne is), I had to agree with it 100%.  I really liked
this city, and could easily see myself living here.  From the top of the
observation deck, you can see the city for miles, and the river that cuts
right through the heart of it.
   Back on the ground, I went next to visit the Parliament House for
Victoria.  They were in the process of renovating the outside, so part of it
was hidden behind tarps and construction beams, but inside, I took a tour of
the building, and, like the tours of the New South Wales and Southern
Australia Parliament Houses, learned a lot about local Australian politics.
   After the Parliament House tour, I walked around Melbourne's Chinatown
and grabbed some lunch.  The food was much better than that awful Chinese
restaurant I visited my first night in Sydney.  Afterwards, I spent the rest
of the afternoon exploring the city, visiting the downtown shopping area
again, and enjoying the day.  In the evening, I caught the movie
"Dragonheart" at the Greater Union Cinema in the central shopping district. 
When it was over at night, I decided not to take a tram back, but rather
just relax and walk back to Toad Hall.  Melbourne is a city that's both
accessible and enjoyable by foot.
   Back at Toad Hall in the new room, I packed, brushed my teeth, and fell
asleep almost immediately.


   I had to be up bright and early the next morning for an early flight into
Hobart, Tasmania's large city in the south.  Tasmania is Australia's only
island-state, and it has a climate and eco-system that is quite different
than the rest of Australia, though often, quite similar to that found in the
western U.S.
   After my flight arrived into Hobart, I caught an airport shuttle into
town, and had a few hours to walk around in the morning before my car would
be ready at Avis.  There's nothing particularly exceptional about Hobart,
but it's a nice town to explore, with a different pace than other cities on
Australia's mainland.  So, for about four hours, I walked across the city,
starting at one end, and winding my way through to the other.
   Perhaps the one element that stands out about Hobart are its many old,
historic buildings.  Hobart is famous for them -- both public buildings
(such as the old post office), and private ones (the many old homes in the
Battery Park area, for instance).  In fact, there are more than 90 buildings
in Hobart that are classified by the National Trust, and many of them are
quite a sight.
   After going through the busier shopping district and commercial center of
Hobart, I headed off toward Battery Park.  This is where many of Hobart's
original, old colonial-style homes still stand today.  Many of these have
been turned into expensive B&Bs, and are often full.  The streets and
neighborhoods here exude a kind of old British charm about them... quiet
streets with old, colonial-style homes, many of which have tiny British Mini
cars parked out in front... a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of
downtown Hobart, just a few blocks away.
   From Battery Park, I continued wandering around aimlessly until I had
made almost a complete circle, and ended up back at the Avis dealership
where I had started from a few hours before.  Along the way, I passed the
local music conservatory, a nice park, the waterfront, and various old
buildings that were home to everything from the telephone company to local
   After returning to the Avis dealership (located at a service station),
and renting the car, I drove to the other side of town to drop my bags off
at the motel I'd be staying at (the Argyle Motor Hotel).  Then, I headed
straight for the Tasman Peninsula and Port Arthur, Australia's first penal
   The road to Port Arthur is quite interesting, and at one point, is
nothing but a narrow strip of road, surrounded by water on all sides.  I
arrived just in time for the start of the hourly tour.
   Port Arthur is famous as Australia's first penal colony, but just about a
year ago, the site became infamous for another reason: the Port Arthur
massacre.  A mad gunman opened fire on tourists at the site, killing more
than 30 people, and injuring many more before he was finally captured. 
Today, he's in prison, and the families of his victims are trying to get
some of his considerable fortunre released to them as compensation.  The
massacre is, to say the least, a touchy subject for the locals.  Australians
aren't used to this kind of random violence, and there's a sign posted that
asks people not to mention the massacre or ask anyone about it -- that there
are leaflets available for anyone who wanted more information about it.
   Its recent bloody history aside, Port Arthur is an interesting place to
study more historic bloody history.  Australia was founded as a penal colony
for Great Britan, and because of its remoteness and difficulty of escape,
Port Arthur is where Australia's first colony was set up.  Many of the
buildings still remain in relatively good shape (considering how old they
are), and the guided tour of the area is excellent.  The guide explains the
history and background of the colony, and relates stories of Port Arthur's
more infamous prisoners and wardens.  People were shipped off to Australia
for the smallest of crimes (such as stealing food), and life at Port Arthur
could be cold and hard.  Even hundreds of years ago, Port Arthur had a cell
for solitary confinment to punish those that wouldn't conform, yet many of
the prisoners wound up making many valuable contributions to the compound as
   Driving back from Port Arthur, I stopped at a small private wildlife
sanctuary along the way that contained many different types of animals,
among which were a few Tasmaian Devils.  The Devils are ugly, black little
critters that look nothing like their Warner Bros' counterpart.  The ones
that were in the compound though, tended to be shy.  They'd crawl out of the
shade in their little area until someone came by to look at them, at which
point, they'd crawl back away until the people left, when they'd come out
again.  Besides the Devils, the little zoo had other animals as well,
including one very talented talking parrot that liked chewing on
   I spent the night quietly at the Argyle Motor Hotel, doing laundry in an
actual laundry machine (the first and only time on the entire trip my
laundry wasn't done in the bathroom!) and watching television.

   The next day, I was up bright and early, and headed up to the top of a
local mountain for a good look down on Hobart.  After that, I started my
drive north, opting to take the smaller roads rather than the highway for
much of the way.  From Hobart, I passed through the towns of Colebrook,
Tunnack, Mt Seymour and Parattah on the way to Oatlands.  These towns were
rural farming towns that you could often pass by without even noticing. 
Oatlands though, was slightly larger, and it was here that I filled up with
petrol (and was told by the service station attendant that I didn't have
much of an accent).  From that point, I drove north along Highway 1.  It's
interesting to note that throughout much of rural Tasmania, there is
virtually no ATM service.  Each town might (might) have one bank, open a few
days a week, but invariably, the bank will be without an ATM.  There's not
much need of one in these communities for the local folk.
   Continuing north along the highway, I passed the town of Ross, then Lake
Leake, at which point I stopped to see the lake.  After walking around a
bit, I continued driving until I got to Cole's Bay, probably the nicest spot
I visited on Tasmania.

THE EAST COAST                                                          

   I'm not sure why I liked Cole's Bay so much.  There's really nothing
drastically special about the place (especially for someone who grew up by
the beach in Southern California), but it was a beautiful day, and I
couldn't think of a better place to spend it.  Cole's Bay is a large bay in
the middle of the Freycinet Peninsula.  The place is popular for boating,
but there are also nice swimming areas and rocks to explore.  What impressed
me the most about the place was the vivid colors everywhere: the water was a
clear, bright dark-blue, and the rocks were a brilliant orange-brown.  There
was also a nice, small sandy cove to relax on, and go swimming near -- which
is what I did.
   Not having a place to clip a keychain onto my swim trunks, and (as an
American), not ready to just leave my car keys out on the sand while I go
swimming, I went into the local bar/restaurant, and asked the lady behind
the counter if I could leave my keys with her for just an hour or so.  She
was glad to do so, but took no responsibility.  With that off my mind, I
went for a most relaxing dip into the cold (but not uncomfortably so) water
of the bay.  Some older kids were in also, playing catch, and I could have
stayed in for hours, but after only an hour or so, I came out, got my key
back from the bar, and drove to the other side of the small village.  There,
I grabbed some lunch, and just relaxed, watching the boats drift by. 
Apparently, Cole's Bay is a popular place without too many accomidations. 
When I inquired at a few places about a room for the night, they were all
full.  I supposed I could have tried some more, but instead, I decided to
just enjoy the day there, then move on and sleep somewhere else for the

   After leaving Cole's Bay in the late afternoon, I drove towards
Scottsdale, where I would spend the night.  Instead of backtracking through
the inland route though, I decided it'd be nice to drive along the coast. 
It was.  I stopped first in Bicheno, a nice small fishing town a little
north of Cole's Bay.  There, I tried calling some places to arrange lodging
in Scottsdale, but all of the lower-cost accomidations were full due to a
sporting event being held in town.  In the end, I found a relatively cheap
(for a B&B) B&B in Scottsdale that had a room, so I made a reservation and
continued the drive north, driving along the coast before finally turning
inland at St. Helens.


   When I arrived in Scottsdale, it was already getting dark, and I was
tired and hungry.  I checked into the B&B (run by a friendly lady) and went
down the street to find something to eat.  The only thing still open (other
than Chinese takeaway next to the service station, or pizza), was a sit-down
restaurant that had things like "steak and eggs" on the menu.  Opting for a
change, I sat down and ordered the steak and eggs.  Here's the strange part
though: I asked if I could have my eggs scrambled, and the waitress insisted
that they could only scramble them at breakfast-time.  It was now during the
dinner hour, so the eggs would have to be sunny-side up.  I don't understand
why they couldn't have just scrambled the eggs at dinner (they were served
fresh), but decided not to pursue the point.  Maybe the waitress should team
up with the Ansett New Zealand sales agent.  They'd make a good team.
   Back at the B&B that evening, I had a nice chat in the living room with
the owner and her visiting friend in the TV room.  Upstairs, the room was
large and beautiful.  I had forgotten how nice it is to stay at a B&B in an
old, historic home.  I caught some TV in my cozy little private room
upstairs, and went to bed early.


   I woke up early the next morning, knowing that I was going to spend most
of the day driving around Tasmania, putting a lot of kms on the rental car.
   The first thing I did was drive the rest of the way into Launceston, the
largest town in the area.  It didn't take long, and it was still quite early
on a Sunday morning when I arrived.  Instead of stopping though, I just
continued driving on, figuring I'd be back later in the day to look around
and spend the night.
   My first destination was to head south, to Lake St. Clair, located at the
southern end of Cradle Mountain National Park.  I had read that this park
was one of the nicest places in Tasmania.  Well, I don't think I'd give it
that much praise, but I certainly enjoyed the ride getting there.
   On the map, the road that takes you from Deloraine to Miena (and passes
by Great Lake) is a nice, thick red line.  It looks like a major highway.
Well, I was surprised -- to say the least -- when, after driving for quite a
while on the road, I came to a sign that said "INTERMITTENT BITUMAN THE NEXT
33KM."  Yes, the road was only partially sealed -- a good part of it was
dirt!  My rental agreement stipulated no dirt roads, but at that point, I
didn't care.  Heck, if the thickest red line on the map was a dirt road, how
am I supposed to know which ones are sealed and which ones aren't?  Besides,
there was no way I was going to backtrack all the way back and circle
around.  So, I continued on the road.  Though I didn't stop, the Great Lake
off on the left-hand side gave some beautiful views, and the whole area
seemed to be popular with campers and boaters.  Dotting the landscape all
along the way were many small cabins and huts.  Finally, the road became
fully sealed again when I reached the town of Miena, located on a hill at
the southern end of the lake.  After looking around a bit and getting more
petrol, I continued on down to Bronte Park (on a road that was a small tiny
red line on the map -- which happened to be sealed.  Go figure).  A short
drive further, and I arrived at Derwent Bridge, then Lake St. Clair.
   There's not all that much to do Lake St. Clair or Cradle Mountain
National Park if you're just visiting for a short time.  Most of the
activities center around long walks into the park and camping trips, if you
have the time to spare.  The lake itself reminded me a little of Crater
Lake.  It was nothing special to anyone who has seen similar sights in the
U.S., but I suppose for someone living in mainland Australia who doesn't see
such scenery at home, it wasn't that bad.  There's a boat that leaves from
the landing to go to the other side of the lake (to drop off and pick up
hikers and campers).  I was debating whether or not to take it, but since it
would have taken up a good part of the morning, opted to move on.
   My next destination was Cradle Valley, at the northern end of Cradle
Mountain National Park.  However, it would require a lot of driving.  I had
to circle around the western end of the park to get there, and wanted to be
able to stop at anything interesting along the way.
   I continued driving west until I came to Queenstown, an old mining town
nestled in a valley of multi-colored mountains.  The road to Queenstown gets
interesting during the last few kms.  As you climb higher and higher into
the mountains, you can see that they are all different colors, from white to
tan to copper, due to the large mining deposits in the area.  There's a nice
lookout at the top, and from there, you start the steep, slow winding
descent into the town.  That steep winding grade is used by large mining
trucks as well as cars, and I wonder what it'd be like to have to drive that
stretch of road everyday as a job.
   Queenstown is a nice, small quiet town with character that resembles an
American old-west mining town.  I stopped for lunch to rest and walk around
a bit.  At the deli where I stopped, I had the choice of kangaroo burgers if
I wished, but I opted for a plain old cheeseburger.
   Back in the car driving north, I continued along route A10 before turning
off for Cradle Valley.  The roads were all sealed until the last stretch,
turning south into Cradle Valley itself.  This is a slow, dirt road that has
tons of loose, white dirt on it.  It's best to pull over and wait if you're
behind other cars, because even just a normal car will kick up enough dust
in front of you to where you can barely see.  It feels as if you're driving
in a windstorm (while at the same time, your car gets a spiffy coating of
white dust).  Unfortunately, there's not always room to pull over, so I had
to run my wipers constantly in order to see in front of me.  Later, when I
opened up the door to get out, a layer of dust had made its way inside the
car through the seals.  Luckily though, this unsealed portion of the road
isn't very long, and before you know it, you're at Cradle Valley.
   Like the southern end of Cradle Mountain National Park, there's not a lot
to do here either if you're just visiting the area for a few hours.  There's
a nice lake, and someone launched a small boat to sail around in while I
watched.  In the background is Cradle Mountain, which bears a passing
resemblance to the local Saddleback Mountain here in Orange County (both
named because they look like a horse's saddle).  It looked like a nice area
to spend a few hours and have a picnic, but again, seemed like nothing out
of the ordinary.
   It was already mid-afternoon, so I decided to start driving back toward
Launceston, where I'd spend the evening.  Instead of backtracking and taking
the large highway north, then east along the northern coast, I decided to
take some of the small inland roads (all sealed).  I passed through the
towns of Sheffield, Kimberley, and Elizabeth Town before returning to
Deloraine, then up to Launceston.
   I arrived back into Launceston in the late afternoon, and drove through
the downtown area.  It's quite a big city, but it was late on a Sunday
afternoon, and most of the city was deserted.  The businesses were all
closed, and it seemed as if everyone had the day off.  I wound up driving to
Cataract Gorge, an interesting gorge if only because it's located right in
the middle of a major metropolitan area.  You can walk alongside the gorge,
which I wound up doing for a bit, and it proved a nice, relaxing stroll. 
When I was finished, I took out the Tasmanian weekly visitor's paper and
made a few calls to find a place to stay.  I had been driving most of the
day, and was pretty tired.  I also had an early flight out the next morning,
and since I had a car, figured I should find a motel close to the airport. 
I wound up staying at the Launceston Airport Motor Inn, which wasn't located
at the airport at all, but rather, was in a suburb of Launceston.  Still, it
was close enough to the airport to be just a short drive the next morning.
   It was probably around 6:00pm by the time I checked into the motel, but
there was still plenty of sunlight left, so I drove around the little suburb
a bit, got out, made a few calls from an ancient payphone, bought some
drinks, and filled up with petrol.  At the BP service station, I cleaned out
the car and threw some of the garbage away, since I'd be returning it early
the next morning.  It wasn't until I got back to the motel and packed
everything in my bag that I realized I was missing a roll of film I had just
shot that day.  I looked everywhere, but couldn't find it.  Then it dawned
on me that I might have thrown it away by accident while cleaning out the
car.  I hopped back in the car and drove to the BP station down the street,
except by the time I got there, it had closed already (it closes at 6:00pm
on Sundays).  I saw the trashcan I had emptied everything into, and hoped
that I'd be able to empty the trash out of it.  Luckily, there was an
opening at the bottom of it, and I was able to reach in and find the roll of
film.  I wondered what I must have looked like there at the deserted service
station to anyone passing by, but it didn't matter.  I found the film, and,
breathing a heavy sigh of relief, returned back to the motel.

   Early the next morning, I took the first flight from Launceston to
Melbourne, where I would wait to transfer to an afternoon flight to
Adelaide.  With some luck though, I arrived into Melbourne just as a flight
to Adelaide was boarding.  I managed to get on the earlier flight, and found
myself arriving into Adelaide before 10:00am.

   The first thing one notices about Adelaide in the summer is the weather:
it's pretty bad.  Unlike Melbourne, with its pleasant climate, Adelaide is
hot and humid.  This made having a room with air-conditioning a must.  I
settled for the "City Central Motel", a slightly run-down, but friendly
motel located in the center of Adelaide.  The trip there from the airport
was quite interesting, with the bus driver proud of his home town, and
volunteering any and all information about the city during the drive.
   After checking into the motel, I made my way over to the South Australia
Parliament House, just a few blocks away.  Here, I took my third and final
tour of local Australian Parliament Houses.  There was something more
laid-back about the S.A. Parliament House though.  Unlike the Victoria or
the New South Wales Houses (where the tours ran constantly all day long),
the S.A. Parliament House offered only one tour a day... and it started a
good 20 minutes late.  Still, it was worth the visit.  Along with the many
similarities the three different state Houses shared, each was also a bit
   After the Parliament House tour, I looked around the downtown shopping
areas of Adelaide for a bit, but the weather was starting to get to me.  The
bus driver had mentioned that there was a nice beach to cool off at, just a
short tram ride from the city center.  I decided to check it out, and am
glad I did.
   In the center of Adelaide, an old tram departs every few minutes to
Glenelg Beach, a nice sea-side beach and resort, about 10km south-east of
town.  The beach itself is a great place for swimming (no deadly box
jellyfish here!), and with its pier, surfside restaurants, and trendy shops
leading up to the beach, it could have easily passed for a Southern
California beach.
   The first thing I wanted to do upon arriving was go for a swim.  The
water looked inviting, especially in the hot, mid-afternoon sun, but I was
worried about leaving my wallet unattended on the beach.  I walked into a
restaurant, and asked the lady behind the tourist information desk if I
could leave my stuff behind her counter.  She agreed, and off I went for a
   The most obvious difference between this Australian beach and an American
one was observing people's attitudes towards the sun.  On any California
beach, you can see hoardes of sun-worshippers, happy to lie out in the sun
in order to get a tan.  Not here.  While there were still some that chose to
set down under the sun, a large number of people congregated into one big
group under the shade of the pier.  People swimming also made the same
choice, with a good percentage of those swimming opting to stay beneath the
pier as well (myself included).  The word has gotten out to Australians that
the sun can be very dangerous (especially in Australia), and while most
everyone in the world knows this fact, you'd never see such behavior (large
groups of people relaxing and swimming under the shade of a pier to escape
the sun) on a California beach.
   The long swim was refreshing, and after an hour, I got out and collected
my things from the tourist desk.  Before I left, I walked around some of the
small, trendy shops on the nearby streets, and stopped in one to get some
ice-cream.  The girl serving it noticed my accent, and asked if I was
American.  When she saw my camera, she asked "what do you take pictures of? 
I'm interested in what type of pictures people who come to Australia take." 
"Mostly landscapes," I told her, and asked her the same question.  Her
response was that she preferred pictures of people.  I mentioned that
Australians were pretty similar to Americans both culturally and physically,
so because of this, I'd been taking mostly landscapes.  She nodded, and I
left, but I thought about her question on the tram ride back into town. 
Sure enough, almost all of my pictures on this trip were of scenery, with
people only showing up in the background.  Why had I not taken some shots
focusing on the people here?  On previous trips to Asia and the mid-east, I
had taken the time to capture some beautiful shots of the people of the
region: the children, the aged, the local peasant on his bike... but it had
not even occured to me to take such shots on this trip.  I told myself the
same answer I had given the girl: that at least on the surface, Australians
looked just like Americans (same ethnic mix, same fashions, etc.), but in
the back of my mind, I knew that every person I had seen and passed by
without taking a picture of, had a story as interesting as the Chinese
peasant, Thai child, or old Arab I had taken the time to photograph on
previous trips.
   Back in Adelaide, I just hung around the center of town in the
afternoon.  The hot, humid weather gave me a general dislike of the place,
though to be fair, if the weather had been more temperate, the city would
have charmed me quite a bit.  After wasting a half-hour on a useless
internet connection (mentioned earlier), I spent the evening wandeing around
the central shopping area, and catching the movie "The Ghost in the
Darkness" before retiring back to the motel.

Sydney (Part II)

   I arrived back into Sydney with a day and a half left to my vacation.  I
set out immediately to re-visit some of the sights I had seen earlier, and
explore those that I didn't get a chance to see at the start of my trip.
   The first thing I did after checking into the George Street Private Hotel
was to explore the general Haymarket/Chinatown area.  This included a look
at some very beautiful, traditional Chinese Gardens around Darling Harbour
(built in conjunction with New South Wales' sister province in China,
Guangdong).  I didn't bother with the other Darling Harbour attractions (a
museum and casino), but did hop onto the Sydney monorail.
   The Sydney monorail is an interesting fixture around the city.  None of
the locals ever take it, because: (a) it's expensive, and (b) it doesn't
really go anywhere (it just makes a small loop around the center of town).
The monorail was built and run by TNT (Australia's giant shipping company,
their equivalent to our Federal Express).  There are better ways to get
around than the monorail (walking, mainly, if the weather's decent), but I
have to admit that it was fun to take a ride on it at least once.
   Sydney is a great city for walking, and once again, I spent the entire
day traversing the city by foot.  From the city center, I walked to
Paddington, an nice residential area with old, fancy homes and classier
shops.  Here, in a Aboriginal Arts shop, I bought the one item it seems most
tourists wind up taking home with them: a boomerang.  For a month, I had
avoided buying one, even though they were for sale in just about every type
of shop you could imagine.  I just had no desire to get one -- until I
noticed a beautifully hand-painted one in this particular shop.  Even though
I kept telling myself all these things were made only for tourists now, the
painting (a kangaroo, done in traditional Aboriginal style), struck me so
much, I had no qualms about buying it on the spot.  Though it's a "genuine"
returning boomerang (handcrafted by an Aboriginal artist), I haven't been
able to bring myself to try it out, lest it get soiled.  Typically tourist
as it may be, the wood is gorgeous, and the paniting, aboslutely beautiful.
   Continuing my walk through the Paddington area toward Darlinghurst
(another nice, trendy area of south-east Sydney), I came to the Sydney
Jewish Museum, and decided to have a look.  While I am quite familiar with
general Jewish history, I knew nothing about the role Jews played in the
settling of Australia, and was curious to find out.  The Sydney Jewish
Museum is a great place to research the subject.  While many of the displays
are about general Jewish history (the Holocaust, Eastern Europe, etc.),
there are also plenty of exhibits on the important roles that Jews have
played in Australian society, from its earliest beginnings to the present
day.  I was surprised to learn that among the very first group of convicts
to set foot onto Australia, were about a dozen Jews (all exiled to Australia
for minor crimes, such as the stealing of food).  There are many exhibits
throughout the multi-level building that detail the lives and legends of
Australia's Jewish settlers (convicts and free-settlers alike) throughout
the country's history.  The museum is nicely done, and is well worth a stop.
   Continuing my walk north, I reached the Kings Cross area in the late
afternoon.  Kings Cross is an interesting part of town.  It's the seedier
side of Sydney, and contains the low-rent backpacker's area, the red-light
district, night-club scene, and bargain-shopping areas, all in one place.
While I didn't stick around long enough to see what the place turns into at
night, I still got a feel for it during the afternoon.  In a strange way, it
reminded me of Khao San Road in Bangkok.  It's the place where the true
backpackers hang out, and where the cheapest (albeit dingy) accomidations in
the city are.  Along the streets are plenty of shops selling everything
cheap (I picked up a bunch of T-shirts here for just a fraction of what they
would have cost anywhere else).  The cheap prices also extended themselves
to food: the takeaway restaurants were having price-wars with each other,
and among the bargains to be found was 3 slices of pizza for A$1 (US$0.80),
at a pizza takeaway run by a Chinese lady.  Of course, the slices were
small, and not exactly thick with toppings, but it was still quite a
bargain.  The other takeaways were just as cheap (offering everything from
Indian food to kebobs), and the sound of hawkers trying to get customers
into their shops filled the air.
   After finishing up in eastern Sydney, I made my way back to central
Sydney, walking the downhill slope through Sydney's financial center towards
Circular Quay and the wharf.  It was around 5:30pm, and the streets were
filled with people in suits emptying out from the large bank skyscrapers. 
Upon reaching Circular Quay, I sat down on a bench facing the Sydney Opera
House next to a young couple and their daughter, and just relaxed for a bit
after all that walking.  We started up a conversation, and again, the
friendliness of the Australian peopled showed through.  After talking a bit,
I found out there was a Sydney street fair going on all week, with plenty of
outdoor concerts and street preformers.  I walked around and caught some of
them.  First, was a street performer/magician doing his comedy-magic schtick
(including twirling balls and string) while trying to work the crowd of
rush-hour commuters.  Then, later in the evening, a visiting overseas troupe
of ethnic black pan-pipe musicians and dancers gave a concert in the small
grassy area of the Quay.  Between all the performances, I spent lots of time
sitting by the edge of the water, watching the sun lower into the horizon,
and slowly end a wonderful day.  When the pan-pipe/dancing concert was
finally over, I boarded the Sydney subway once more, and took it back to the
   The next day, I woke up bright and early to spend my last few hours in
Australia.  My flight left in the mid-afternoon, and I'd have to leave the
city center by 12:30pm.  The first thing I did was get to the Sydney Opera
House in time to make the first tour of the day, since I was unable to take
a tour of the facility at the start of my trip.  I made it on the tour, and
it was worth waiting for: all four of the halls were open for tours that
morning, and the Opera House is definitely worth seeing on the inside.  As a
performer myself (I'm a violinist), I found the entire complex fascinating. 
There are four different halls housed inside the one building, terraced on
top of each other.  They include: one large hall (for orchestral and choir
concerts), one medium hall (operas), one smaller hall (plays), and one small
theatre (talks, lectures, movie screenings, etc.)  The large hall is huge
and spacious.  It also has an interesting setup: as well as the thousands of
seats out in the audience, there are seats placed on the stage itself, both
behind where the orchestra sits, and off to the sides (though the most
expensive seats in the house are the box-seats out in the audience).
   The history of the Opera House's construction is quite a tale in itself. 
Originally set to cost $A7 million and take only a few years to build, the
project wound up taking much longer than expected.  The original designer (a
young Danish architect), quit in the middle after political interference,
and the design work was handed over to a government team to complete.  The
construction that began back in 1959 didn't finish until 1973, and the
original A$7 million budget turned into A$102 million by the time the Opera
House was finished.  Money for the complex was raised at the time by a
series of successful lotteries (the Opera House has long since been paid
off).  As much of a headache as it must have been to complete, the Sydney
Opera House is a stunning sight both inside and out.  It has become the
instantly-recognizable icon of both Sydney and Australia, and the concert
halls inside the building are magnificent.
   At the end of the tour, the opera company started to arrive and set up
for a rehersal in the medium-sized hall.  I peeked down into the orchestra
pit, where the musicians were just starting to arrive and warm up.  Who
knows... maybe one of these days I'll be on a tour that gets to play there.

   After the Opera House, I made my way back to the Haymarket area where the
hotel was.  After walking around the area once more (buying a T-shirt and
grabbing some lunch), I returned to the hotel to pick up my bag, and went to
wait for the shuttle bus back to the airport.  Unfortunately, the airport
bus service wasn't exactly reliable that day.  As I stood under the
designated pick-up sign wearing my backpack, I waited for the bus to come. 
And waited.  And waited.  Though the sign mentioned the buses would come by
every ten minutes, twenty minutes soon turned into thirty, and there was
still no bus in sight.  Finally, after well over forty minutes had passed,
the green-and-yellow bus rolled around the corner to pick up passengers. 
Luckily, I made it in time for my flight, but it certainly was a bit

   At the airport, I checked in for my United flight back to Los Angeles,
grabbed my last taste of Deep Spring sparkling mineral water (Orange-Mango),
and waited to board the plane.  My vacation was over, and soon, I'd be home
and back to work the next day for an opera rehersal.  But I had a wonderful
time, and a vacation I'll remember for the rest of my life.  I can hardly
wait to go back again.


   In Australia, the government has long held the line that places be called
by their (white) Australian names rather than by their (native) Aboriginal
names.  So on any official government document, the large red monolith in
central Australia is always referred to as "Ayers Rock", rather than its
native Aboriginal name, "Uluru".  However, many people have chosen to ignore
such directives, and you often see the original Aboriginal names of places
posted (especially by the Australian park service).
   In New Zealand, most city names and areas still retain their original
Maori name, with no changes from the white settlers.  While generally
speaking, little Maori has crept into Kiwi English, a few words and phrases
have made their way into the lexicon.  For instance, every Kiwi knows the
meaning of "Kia Ora" ("Good Day"), and you hear it used from time to time.

   Radio in both Australia and New Zealand use the same frequencies as in
America, but the AM step rate is different.  In America, the step-rate for
AM radio is 10khz, meaning that radio station frequencies are spaced 10khz
apart (540AM, 550AM, 560AM, 570AM, etc).  In Australia and New Zealand (as
in many other parts of the world), the step-rate is 9khz, so you wind up
getting station frequencies like 540AM, 549AM, 558AM, 567AM, etc).  This is
no problem if you bring along an analog travel-radio with you, but if you
have a digital set, make sure it has a switch to change between 9khz/10khz
step-rate (most ones don't), or you won't be able to receive AM broadcasts
   Radio stations in Australia and New Zealand are pretty decent, but they
lack the variety that I've become used to here in Los Angeles.  In all but
the largest cities, there would be only a a few stations available, and they
all seemed pretty much the same -- either offering music or talk, with
little variation.  Considering the number of immigrants in both countries, I
was surprised not to find even one non-English station (in Los Angeles, the
most popular radio station is Spanish-language, and there is an all-Korean
station as well), or even an all-news station.  The only choices available
seemed to be only music or talk (with news only on the top of the hour). 
Many times, multiple frequencies would be used for the same broadcast in
different areas, meaning that as you drive through one area and into the
next, you'd have to tune around to find the same station again on a
different part of the dial.  Station's names were also in a different format
than that used in the U.S.  You'd have radio names like "B1" or "A2" (a mix
of letters and numbers), instead of all-letter names as done in the U.S.
(KABC, KFI, WABC, etc.)
   Listening to the radio really helped keep me alert during those times
when I was driving most of the day, and I often wound up listening to talk
shows.  After being used to American talk-radio, with its hard, combative,
passionate debates (on subjects ranging from racism to abortion to nuclear
proliferation to petty party politics), I was a little amused to tune in and
listen to the "big" local topics of the day: trying to lessen the number of
members of parliament, tracing family histories, trying to find old,
long-lost friends, and whether to tear down some old trees or not in order
to widen a road.  Yes, the topics certainly weren't the explosive issues we
hear everyday on American talk radio, but in a way, it was kind of nice. 
   One of the biggest stories while I was in New Zealand concerned the
tearing down of large, old trees in North Palmerston, New Zealand, in order
to make room to widen a road.  Most of the local residents of the town were
against tearing down the old familiar trees, while businesses in the area
favored it (widening the road would ease traffic congestion, and allow more
customers to come into the area).  There were a lot of demonstrations by
locals against widening the road, so the mayor took an underhanded approach:
with the understanding that he would take no action until there had been
further discussion on the matter, he suddenly ordered the trees to be cut
down in secret one night, before anyone could do anything about it.  He only
managed to cut down a few though, before the locals heard the ruckus, came
out, and managed to stop any further action, at least temporarily.  The next
day, many of the locals went up into the trees to protest, and refused to
come down.  There were heated debates on what to do, including one I tuned
into on the radio, with one of the locals being calm, rational, and giving
lots of suggestions on other ways to solve the traffic problem, while the
mayor came off as a total SOB, saying no one was going to stop him from
tearing down those trees.  Shortly afterward, he ordered more trees torn
down, ignoring the protesters in the trees, and someone with a camcorder
taped the felling of the tree.  There was no regard for the safety of anyone
nearby, and when the footage was shown on TV, the government ordered a halt
to the felling -- temporarily -- because of the crew's appalling lack of
concern for people's safety.  The issue was still a stand-off when I left
New Zealand, and I'm really curious as to how it turned out.  Since this
type of local story is never picked up by the overseas press, if anyone out
there knows how it all ended, please email me and let me know.
   Another major news story while I was in New Zealand concerned the New
Zealand Department of Conservation's (DOC) policy on search-and-rescue in
the Mt. Cook area, a national park on the South Island, where lots of hikers
get hurt, and occasionally fall to their death.
   While I was in New Zealand, a German tourist, while hiking on Mt. Cook,
fell to his death with his wife only a few feet away.  The DOC sent out a
search-and-rescue team, but once the hiker was pronounced dead, just left
the body there, with the grieving wife not understanding what was going on.
It seems that the DOC's funding was cut, and as a protest, took a public
stance that they would no longer perform any search-and-rescue operations at
Mt. Cook, saying it was not their job (as Department of Conservation), but
the job of the police.  The DOC was right in that it really ISN'T their job
to do such seach-and-rescues, (Mt. Cook is the only area where the DOC has
routinely performed such tasks in the past), but in order to bring attention
to their funding cuts, they were going to stop volunteering to do something
that was not part of their charter anyway.  The local police begged them to
continue, saying that the DOC staff knows the area better than anyone else,
but the DOC refused.  They did send out a team to look for the hiker, but
once he was pronounced dead, they refused to move his body or do anything
else.  The German widow, being caught up in petty, local politics, was
crying on radio and TV, not understanding why no one would move her
husband's body.  It took a few days for the body to be moved, and the
standoff between the two agencies was still going on as I left.
   Finally, the one other "big" story of the New Years season in New Zealand
was the passing of counterfeit (New Zealand) money up in the Bay of Islands
area.  Someone had made counterfeit bills, and had been passing them around
to local merchants up in the area.  The police were trying to catch whoever
was responsible, but what was funny about this story was that the fake bills
were apparently VERY poor copies -- obvious forgeries that ANYONE could
easily spot.  I guess most Kiwis just didn't think anyone would bother to
forge New Zealand currency, so didn't even notice that the bills looked
nothing like the real thing.

   Television in both Australia and New Zealand was interesting to watch,
even if the programs on weren't always winners.  The fare in both countries
included a good mix of locally-produced programming, plus British and
American imports.  "Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman" and "Murphy Brown" were there,
along with plenty of British soaps and comedies complimenting the local fare
(such as the Australian "Water Rats", a cops-by-the-waterfront show).
Perhaps it was only the time of day I watched (usually just at night), but I
noticed a distinct lack of any game shows, which are so prolific in the
States.  Television news coverage seemed quite good in both countries, and I
never felt out of touch with what was going on in the world, though of
course, any American used to the multitude of channel choices available at
home, would consider the three (sometimes four) available channels a
television desert (cable aside, Los Angeles has 19 on-air television

TELEPHONES (Australia)
   Australia has one of the best phone systems in the world.  I don't know
what rates are like for homeowners, but from the payphone, the Australian
telephone system is a real bargain.
   Australian payphones come in three general types: the small, orange or
blue coin-only type (typically found in restaurants and pubs), the older,
ever-present coin payphones that have been converted to accept cards as
well, and the newer card-only phones with back-lit LCD displays.
   The price of a local call in Australia is now 40c, but often, you'll find
that the small orange or blue coin-only phone located in your motel or pub
charges 50c instead of 40c (with the extra money, no doubt, going to the
owner of the establishment).  Certain types of calls from these phones can
also be blocked, so they're not the most convenient choice.  For instance,
while having dinner at a Sizzler restaurant in Darwin, I tried to use their
orange phone to call a number in Cairns, but the call was blocked: it would
allow only local calls to be made (I wound up having to walk a few minutes
down the street to a phone booth in order to make my calls).  These small
orange or blue (the blue models have an LCD display) coin-only phones seem
to pop up most frequently at businesses.  You'll never just see them on the
street in a phone booth.
   The most prolific type of payphone in Australia is the type that accepts
both coins and telephone cards for payment.  Many of these phones look
pretty old, and have probably been converted from coin-only at one time,
into coin-or-card phones.  This type of phone has an LCD display (though not
back-lit), and you can watch the amount of credit you have remaining tick
down in front of you.
   The remaining type of payphone is the newer, sleek, card-only type that
can be found throughout the country (it is this type of phone that Telstra,
the Australian telephone company, installed at the Phnom Penh airport in
Cambodia).  These phones are silver-and-orange, and have a back-lit LCD
display that can be read even at night.  However, they accept no coins.
   The nicest thing about calling from Australia is that you don't feel
ripped off.  Calling is generally very cheap, and even overseas calls are
reasonable, with no large minimum.  I could put in 40c (the price of a local
call), and still use it to call overseas for a few seconds (useful if you
want to tell someone something quick).  This was completely different than
calling from New Zealand, where, as soon as the other party answers on an
overseas call, you're charged $3.80 immediately.
   Like in the U.S., Australia has 800 numbers.  However, they also have
another useful type of number called a "13" number.  This is a number that
you can call from any part of Australia, and it will only cost your 40c (the
price of a local call) no matter how long you talk.  Typically, airlines and
rental car companies use "13" numbers instead of "800" numbers, and the idea
of a type of call between a totally-free "800" number, and a full-pay
long-distance call is a good one, and one I've seen only in Australia.
   Here's a bit of trivia for those out there who say Australians don't have
any class: when you call directory assistance, you're put on hold to
classical music until an operator can come on the line.
   Another interesting bit of telephone trivia is that when you place a
call, the phone doesn't check for the proper credit until the call actually
is completed -- which means you can place a call without putting in any
money and the call will still go through.  Only when the party on the other
line answers, does it check for the proper credit, and will disconnect if
there's not enough money.  If you have anyone you really hate and want to
make some prank phone calls to, I suppose this is a good, free way to do so.
However, I found a much better use: calling home to see if I had any
messages on my machine, and not having to fuss for coins or cards each time
I wanted to check (only if it answered on the first ring would I know that I
had a message, and then would have to search for coins or a telephone card
to call back and retrieve the message).
   Telstra is the main telephone company in Australia, but much like the
U.S., competition has arrived.  Optus is the new kid on the block, and is
aiming for a piece of the Australian telephone pie.  However, all payphones
on the street are still Telstra payphones, so at least for now, Optus
competes only in the home and business worlds, not on the street.  Perhaps
in time, we might see a sitaution much like the one you find in the UK,
where you see the new, blue Mercury payphones alongside the old, established
British Telcom ones.
   Telephone cards in Australia are of the thin, use-once-and-throw-away
type that I prefer.  They're almost exactly like Japan's NTT telephone cards
in every way, and after each use, a hole is punched in them, showing the
approximate credit you have remaining.  They're also very well done, with
many colorful pictures and paintings gracing the fronts.  I happen to like,
and collect telephone cards, so I would pick up even used and discarded ones
whenever I saw them.  The cards are available in different amounts,
including $5, $10, $20, and $50.  I found this interesting.  In Japan, there
has been a lot of telephone card fraud, with hackers "refreshing" used-up
cards, fooling the phones to accept them as new.  Because of this, NTT in
Japan stopped producing large-value cards a few years ago, and now sells
only Y500 and Y1000 (US$5/US$10) cards.  I guess this problem hasn't
surfaced in Australia yet.

TELEPHONES (New Zealand)
   With as much praise as I give Telstra Australia, I despise Telecom New
Zealand.  They are one of the world's biggest money-making rip-offs, and I'm
surprised the people there haven't stood up and demanded changes.
   Competition has yet to hit the telephone industry in New Zealand, and it
shows.  I don't know if it's true, but Richard, the owner of the Matai Lodge
in Te Anau, told me that Telecom NZ makes NZ$2 million a DAY in profit.  I
wouldn't be a bit surprised.  In Australia, if you insert 80c worth of coins
and only use 40c worth, the unused amount is returned to you.  In New
Zealand, it's not.  NEVER put more money into a payphone than you need until
the last possible moment; any unused money is eaten along with that which
you've used.  Another great Telecom New Zealand practice is to charge you
through the roof for international calls.  As mentioned before, just to
place a 1-second call to the U.S. costs you NZ$3.80 right up front.  None of
the "we'll-charge-you-a-little-at-a-time" niceties that Telstra Australia
offers you.  Telecom New Zealand wants your money.  It was so bad that I
decided not to make any overseas calls while in New Zealand, opting to wait
until I returned back to Australia.
   There are three types of public phones in New Zealand: those which accept
coins, telephone cards, and credit cards -- and each type has a color-coded
phone booth (for instance, booths for telephone-card payphones are green).
However, unlike in Australia, the payphones accept only ONE type of payment;
there are no payphones that accept both coins AND cards, which means if
you've run out of change, or run out of telephone cards, you may spend quite
some time searching for the type of payphone you need (especially since
there seem to be much fewer payphones in New Zealand than Australia).
   The telephone cards for New Zealand are of the thick, reusable type that
resemble a credit-card both in size and thickness.  When finished with one,
you're supposed to drop them in a small bin in the payphone booth so they
can be recycled and used again, but I wound up keeping as many as I could
find for souvenirs.  The recycle angle has a good environmental point to it,
but I must admit that I really disliked these thick, bothersome telephone
cards, and vastly preferred the thin, flimsy Australian type.  While the
designs and pictures on the New Zealand cards were adequate, they weren't
half as nice as those found on Australian or Japanese telephone cards.
   The only plus I can think of for Telecom New Zealand was that they were
the only (overseas) telephone company I've seen that allows you to place
calls to U.S. 800 numbers (billed at their high, normal international rates,
of course).  This was a useful feature though, for anyone needing to contact
a business in the U.S. but knowing only that business' 800 number.
   Hopefully, people in New Zealand will wake up one day, see that the rest
of the industrialized world has competition in the telephone market, and
demand the same from their government.  The country could sure use it.

   ATMs in both Australia and New Zealand are both easy to use and the best
way to get cash as an overseas traveller.  The major ATM networks (Plus and
Cirrus) are widely used in both countries, and using an ATM will give you
the very best rate-of-exchange (the interbank rate: better than the rate
used for changing traveller's checks, or even cash).  In Australia, the ATMs
were also quite smart: besides being able to withdraw money from my savings
(or checking) account at home, it would also not only tell me my balance,
but what my balance was in the local currency (in this case, how much money
in Australian dollars I had available).  Unlike the trend here in the U.S.,
with banks starting to charge fees to use their ATMs, there are no fees
whatsoever in using Australian or New Zealand ATMs (other than any possible
fees charged by your American bank at home).  My credit union is on the
Cirrus network, and I had no problems getting cash at all.  I long ago
stopped taking travellers checks with me (the small amount I took just as a
backup wasn't even used until I returned from my trip), and just travel by
the ATM.  There are no lines to wait in at banks, and you can get money
24hrs a day.  The only place where there was no ATM service was in rural
Tasmania, where, for some strange reason, none of the banks had ATMs (this
is mentioned in the Lonely Planet guide as well, and seems to be the only
part of Australia where there is no ATM service).

   I've already written a bit about this, but wanted to comment some more on
my impressions of the Aussies and Kiwis.
   In general, I felt that Australians had to be the friendliest people I've
ever met.  They'd go out of their way to help not only a tourist, but one of
their own as well.  I enjoy observing people, and the Aussies were friendly,
pleasant, and respectful of each other, even when having a bit of fun.  Not
only that, but there was an immense pride among them that you could easily
see everyday in the country.  Whether it be quoting lines from Australian
folk songs, or articles on Australian exports with the author swelling with
pride, it's a feeling of a people proud of their country and heritage, even
with the vast differences in their histories.  If I had to sum it up, I'd
say that the Aussies know how to live together -- something it seems we
Americans have forgotten.  
   The Kiwis, on the other hand, were a bit different.  It's not that New
Zealanders were unfriendly, but they were much more reserved than their
Australian neighbors, and, in a way, reminded me of the Swiss.  I had many
great conversations with Kiwis, and most were genuinely helpful and kind,
but I still had the impression that they were much more individualistic, and
without the sort of pride in their country that the Aussies had.  Still,
their kindness would show through easily enough once you've introduced
yourself, and personal contact was made.


   Just a few last thoughts and trivias:
   While driving in rural Tasmania, I noticed quite a few fields in one area
where it looked like they were growing cotton.  The only thing strange was
that it seemed pretty heavily guarded, with KEEP OUT signs posted, and
fences all around.  It wasn't until later that I found out that it wasn't
cotton being grown, but opium poppies, (for medicine, I'll assume) for a
large pharmaceutical company.

   "Skippy" was the name of an old, much-beloved Australian TV show, quite
similar to America's "Lassie", except with a kangaroo ("Skippy") as the
hero, rather than a collie.  There are lots of slang words to describe
kangaroos, and every once in a while, you'll hear a 'roo referred to as
"Skippy".  I even managed to hear the theme song of the show -- it was
played at the end of a radio report on the crash-testing of cars into
robotic kangaroos at an Australian GM plant.

   When travelling, you tend to notice the little things.  Perhaps it's
because Australia is in the southern hemisphere, but for some reason, all
the light switches are the opposite of those found in the rest of the
(northern hemisphere) world: in Australia, UP is OFF, and DOWN is ON.

   As an American, there were a few phrases that caught my ear: instead of
showing "business hours", signs would mention "trading hours".  If you
walked into a Kmart and wanted to put something on "layaway", you'd ask to
have it put on "lay-by".  Instead of "check"ing the appropriate box, you'd
need to "tick" it, and a favorite word for "lots" seemed to be "heaps" (used
heaps of times).  On the bill at a small roadside restaurant, it didn't say
"thank you for your patronage", but rather "thank you for your custom", and
finally,  telephones and bathrooms weren't "busy", they were "engaged"
(Hmmm... if they were to marry, what would their kids look like?)


   Well, I certainly had a fantastic time on this trip.  With the way it
looked to be starting out (with my foot), I wasn't sure how it would go, but
a good indicator seemed to be the first sight I saw upon arriving into
Sydney that first morning: a rainbow.  My foot healed almost immediately,
and I managed to traverse quite a bit of both countries and take them in,
though I realize that for a region this size, a month is only a drop in the
bucket.  I didn't have a chance to visit any of Western Australia, or most
of the North Island in New Zealand, but I will leave those for my next trip
to the area... one that I'll be happy to take again.

     ::::: End :::::