Saturday, September 18, 2010

Five nights in Seoul

Having visited Seoul and South Korea for a week or so in 2005 when Eric & Amy Johnston were living here (Pyongtaek/Camp Humphreys), this leg of the trip was really per Greg’s request. I had only visited one of the palaces in Seoul on my first trip, so it was fun to see most of the others this time around. I had also visited the DMZ on a USO tour with Amy, so it was interesting to observe the higher level of security due to recent events between North & South Korea. Unfortunately the weather was not kind to us and we endured almost constant rain and high temps & humidity during all but the last afternoon & morning we were in South Korea.

This was also the first time in our RTW trip to visit a non-English speaking country. It definitely adds another level of stress & difficulty to the day-to-day routine of finding our way around either on foot or via public transportation. Ordering food from a non-tourist oriented restaurant is particularly challenging and you just have to hope that you’ll be able to eat what you end up with. I have been eating traditional Asian foods for years, both on my travels and at the many wonderful restaurants in New York City. Greg & I will try just about anything (and we love spicy food), but it’s tedious to pick apart a whole fish (head, tail, fins & all) with chopsticks!

This is also the first time we put our purifying systems into our Katadyn water bottles. Although most hotels & restaurants do have filtered water dispensers and you can buy bottled water everywhere, we still like the efficiency (not to mention environmental friendliness) of carrying our own reusable bottles with us. We just take the filters out if we don’t need them.

I will also briefly mention the “facilities.” Seoul gets high marks for having free public toilets in most subway stations and other heavily-trafficked areas. What is not guaranteed is whether they are western-style (bowl with seat) or Asian-style (laid-down urinal-looking device at floor-level which requires squatting). Toilet paper is also not a given, although it was present in all but a few places. Nor is soap or something to dry your hands with. I personally always carry in my day bag a travel pack of facial tissues, packets of hand wipes and anti-bacterial hand sanitizer. A bandanna or handkerchief also comes in handy.

In terms of our budget, Seoul was pretty kind to us. Subway tickets are only 1000KRW or under US$1.00, the average meal is 5000-10000KRW or US$4.50-9.00 unless you get into the higher end cook-your-own barbecues or a traditional multi-course dinner, and Korean beer or the national drink soju is a bargain; our budget accommodation (private room with bath) in an interesting & convenient part of town was $45/night, admission fees to most sights are minimal (in the $3-5 range).

Here are a few notes I took at the end of each day:
9/8 Took airport bus to Jongno-gu district; had to use screenshots of Korean maps to Seoul Hostel on my netbook to show locals (total of 4 I think) to find the place in the dark -- it’s not on a main street but in an alleyway; very humid
9/9 toured Changdeokgung Palace and Secret Garden. Unfortunately it rained all day. Downpour while we were walking through Insadong and to a travel agency in YMCA building to check on prices for flights to Tokyo (minimum 296000won) so now back at the hotel drinking Korean beer. Ate lunch (something like chicken schnitzel with rice, scrambled egg, kimchi) at small café with English menu near the palace. Traditional cook-your-own bbq for dinner
9/10 got up at 5:30am for trip to DMZ; were locked in the hostel building - had to wake up owner to let us out; negotiated subway system for first time - names of stops are in Korean & English but it is not always intuitive which train & direction to take; got to USO @ Camp Kim by 7am, checked in then walked down street to pick up breakfast to eat on bus (broccoli & crab and bulgogi omelet sandwiches, sweet crunchy snacks, cold tea); buses left promptly @ 7:30; toured DMZ: Camp Bonifas, JSA/Panmunjom, 3rd Infiltration Tunnel, Dora Observatory, lunch (bulgogi), Dorasan Station, back at USO around 3:15; bought tickets to Hiroshima from USO travel agency; back to hotel to relax & drink beer; dinner at nearby restaurant - ordered by pointing & mimicking fish swimming & soup bowl - not sure exactly what we had but we each got a whole barbecued fish with all the typical side dishes plus a miso clam soup; rained all day and very foggy so not good visibility into North Korea

9/11 still raining; slept in until almost 9am; dropped off our laundry at front desk for cleaning service (5000won/bag). It wasn't a constant downpour like the past few days but still very wet & humid. Noryangjin seafood market - where does all this seafood come from and where does it all get sold to??? didn‘t see a single other “white person“, all the vendors, males especially, say “hello“; ate lunch at Japanese restaurant on 2nd floor - sat on floor, English menu was not very straightforward and they didn’t speak English so still wasn’t sure what we ordered but ended up getting a large bowl of fish soup (bones, skin, etc. included), one long & thin roasted whole fish, a bowl of something similar to bibimbap but with strips of raw fish in it, and a few small side dishes (edamame, kimchi, tiny boiled eggs, a salad with creamy corn dressing); National Museum of Korea is huge - interesting artifacts especially from Korean royal tombs; Namdaemun Market - was raining again so didn‘t wander around too long but at least Greg got to see how Koreans shop; Seoul Plaza where there was some kind of Korean food exhibition - tried “berry“ wine, guava leaf tea and a few rice-based snacks; Deoksugung Palace - watched beginning of a cultural storytelling performance; walked to First Methodist Church but was closed and under repair; took a break from traditional & challenging Korean foods and ate pizza at Mr Pizza near our hotel - only odd ingredient was corn. Talked to Dad & Debbie on Google Talk for about an hour

9/12 slept in again until after 8am; it is not raining when we wake up; spend a few hours making reservations for Japan accommodations then head out to Gyeongbok Palace. Of course, it starts drizzling as we walk there. Roam around the palace grounds for an hour or so then backtrack to Insadong. Get some free popcorn from a cultural festival and practice archery. Walk along the street enjoying the sights & sounds and shop for gifts for Amy’s girls as requested. Eat lunch at KFC (soy sauce chicken & crispy chicken) per Greg’s request. Sky finally clears while we are eating and we emerge from the restaurant into the first sunshine we’ve seen since somewhere in New Zealand. Walk along Jongno until we reach the Jongmyo Royal Shrine but, as expected, we are only allowed to enter with a guided tour in English and we have already missed the last one for the day. We observe all the older Korean men playing a game like checkers in the park, wander along a few side streets, buy beer & soju at the grocery store and return to the hotel. We go up to the 7th floor roof but are told by the manager we’re not allowed onto the roof so we take a quick look around at the skyline and head back to our room to drink beer. As it is nearing sunset and still nice outside, I decide to go for a 30 minute walk to explore the alleyways near our hotel. It is very interesting to wander around this area of Jongno as there are lots of little hole-in-the-wall places that are not on any map.

9/13 We got up early enough to finish packing our bags and eat some oatmeal for breakfast before walking over to Jongmyo Shrine for the 10am tour. We had already requested a late checkout from the hostel (extended from 10am to noon). We enjoyed the guided tour of the shrine although I thought it was funny that when our guide said “deceased” it sounded like she was saying “diseased.” The tour took just under an hour and we were back at the hostel by 11:15 after grabbing a quick street snack of octopus & crab tempura. We finished gathering our things and checked out before noon. It was only a 10 minute walk to the airport bus stop, but with the heat & humidity and weight of our backpacks we were sweating within seconds. We had to wait for the bus about 10 minutes, then relaxed on the one hour ride out to Incheon Airport. We were able to check in for our flight even though we were about 5 hours early. Had to wait in line at the airport post office for at least 15 minutes to send some gifts to my best friend’s daughters. Cleared security & immigration then went directly to the Asiana Business Lounge. After a brief look around determined it was worth the extra US$27 for Greg to come in with me on my Priority Pass. We ate lunch then settled in to catch up on blogging, photo uploading, etc. We didn’t manage to make time for the free massage chairs, but did grab another quick bite to eat (and drank plenty of free beer) before boarding our plane for Hiroshima. The announcements on the plane were in Korean, Japanese & English. Despite the short 1.5 hour flight, they still served a cold dinner with hot tea & coffee.

The link to all of my Seoul photos is embedded in this post's title. You can also click here:
Picasa web album - Seoul

Monday, September 13, 2010

New Zealand Highlights 24AUG-08SEP10

North Island
  • Nothing is expensive; it’s just more or less “dear”
  • Sheep grazing on still-slumbering wineries
  • Gumboots (galoshes) at Kathmandu outfitters
 South Island
  • Views of snow-capped peaks of the Seaward Kaikoura Ranges at the same time as the eastern South Pacific coastline
  • Drinking a wine (Montana Pinot Noir ‘08) from a winery we passed on the way to Kaikoura
  • Excellent iSite assistance
  • Close encounters with fur seal pups just north of Kaikoura
  • The term “cheeky” to describe the kea (southern wild parrot) and a certain type of people
  • 100kph speed limit through the mountains when it should have been 85 max but frequent blatant signage reminding drivers not to speed, stay to the left, don‘t drink & drive, etc. (e.g. photo of body in morgue with toe tag = speeding ticket); otherwise no billboards, no mile markers
  • Countless one lane bridges
  • Views of snow-capped peaks of the Southern Alps at the same time as the western South Pacific coastline
  • Lambing season: playful newborns everywhere
  • Perfectly juicy, crisp, sweet & tart NZ Braeburn apples
  • Deer farm
  • Gold kiwi fruit for breakfast
  • Screw-top local wines - pinot noirs & chardonnays in particular were very good
  • Snow flurries on the way to/from Milford Sound
  • Walking/hiking in NZ is called tramping
  • Weather is “fine” not sunny, warm, etc.


If I was planning to come back to NZ on vacation or was recommending a visit to family & friends, unless they had 3-4 weeks to travel, I would just fly directly to the South Island and spend a minimum of two weeks touring the island. I would do a circular route comparable to ours but spend more time in each place with a less aggressive driving schedule each day. While we rented a compact car, if you are self-sufficient and don’t mind driving a larger vehicle I would consider renting a camper van so you have the option to sleep & cook at virtually any location. Total cost for our compact car was US$268 for 12 24-hour periods and gas was US$229. I would allow more time for walks (tramps). Expect to spend $$$ on sightseeing activities but it’s worth it. Pick a time of year when weather is a bit warmer but beware sandflies. Go when wineries & orchards are in season. We ate well in NZ and finally drank some good beer but still more wine. In fact, you could dedicate an entire trip to visiting the microbreweries & wineries here. The New Zealand dollar was 0.71 to 1 U.S. dollar so everything was over 25% off. Note that none of the accommodations we stayed in had central heat. They either had space heaters or wall units that, with a couple of exceptions, were not controlled by thermostats but by timers (30 or 60 minutes). So we constantly had to get up in the middle of the night to turn the heat on. At a couple of places they also had hot water bottles to put under your sheets. Bottom line, we loved New Zealand despite the cool, damp weather!

If you're interested in our exact expenditures for food, accommodations (mostly at YHA's), transport & miscellaneous, just let me know. We keep a detailed spreadsheet of all of our expenses so we can keep an eye on our overall trip costs as the weeks turn into months...

North Island photos

South Island photos

Milford Sound photos

New Zealand Diary

As I was quite tired most nights from a long day of driving, I didn't write full posts for each place we visited in New Zealand. Rather here are some thoughts/notes from each day's activities:

Auckland 8/25
  • Airbus to/from airport w/backpacker discount $21 per person RT
  • K-road, where our hostel was located, is a bit seedy in spots, but has great late night dining options, bars & convenience stores; it was a 20 minute downhill walk into the CBD via Queen Street, but a steep uphill walk coming back (or take the bus)
  • We took the ferry to Devonport around midday before the rain set in; easy 1 hr walking tour with free pamphlet from iSite, Mt Victoria climb. Saw colonial cottages, stately waterfront homes and World War II defenses that run deep into a volcanic cone.
  • Lunch & beer at Brew on Quay
  • Excellent museum - could have spent at least half a day but had to “speed walk” it because we arrived at 4pm and it closed at 5pm
  • Bus stops have automated updates
  • Fun to ride The Link bus (makes a big loop around town including some suburbs) for $1.70 per ride but it was very slow going in rush hour traffic
  • SkyTower was deemed too expensive at $25 minimum to get to the top and the weather was bad so no one was bungy jumping which would have been fun to watch
  • nonsmoking casino at Sky City - we each played $2 on $0.02 slots; I eventually won about $1 but gambled it all away for fun
  • Beer at Shakespeare Brewery Pub
Rotorua 8/26
"You’ll know you’ve arrived in the city of Rotorua when you see (and smell!) the geothermal steam plumes of Whakarewarewa. Rotorua sits squarely on the Pacific Ring of Fire, so there’s evidence of volcanic activity everywhere you look. Explore the geothermal areas and discover the unique culture of New Zealand’s Maori people."
  • Drive here on the Thermal Explorer Highway was very scenic 3 hrs+: green rolling/steep hills, lots of cows, horses, sheep, alpacas (dairy farms)
  • Disappointed that our rental car (Toyota Vitz) doesn’t have cruise control but then realized that most roads are too curvy to use it
  • iSite (info center) - helpful staff, called several hostels to check rates & availability; tons of free maps but the best maps are NOT free
  • Went to cheapest hostel $60/nt double first but weren’t thrilled by tiny exterior room which meant having to walk outside to get to toilets/showers; YHA was much nicer for $62/nt (member rate + iSite discount)
  • $20+ to see geysers which are within traditional Maori communities and include cultural activities but local park with steam vents is free
  • Walked along the lakefront at sunset
  • Free Swine Lager at Pig & Whistle with coupon from iSite
  • Thursday night market: - small, mostly food vendors (whitebait or green mussel fritters), but stayed open late
  • Street names are all Maori so hard to navigate verbally
  • Wanted to try Croucher Brewery beers but after going out of our way to find the bar/restaurant, discovered it had closed and was now a construction site
  • Morning 8/27: walked around the thermal features at Government Gardens; bought new hiking shoes at Kathmandu (similar to REI in the U.S.)
Napier 8/27
"In 1931 a devastating earthquake nearly levelled the city of Napier. It was rebuilt in the style of the times, and is now considered the Art Deco Capital of the world."
  • Drive from Rotorua took 3 hrs plus a stop at Lake Taupo; scenery was mostly timber land & logging trucks; signs saying “protect our trees, save the world”; wineries (winter vines) once we were in Hawkes Bay area
  • iSite was helpful again - booked hostels, ferry
  • Can walk through town in 30+ minutes; more if you want to pay & visit NZ wine center, local museum
  • Cute Art Deco buildings but mostly comprising two streets
  • Nice South Pacific oceanfront walkway
  • No heat at Wally’s hostel - we had to ask for two portable heaters for our double double bedroom
  • The inside of our rental car now smells like sulphur (from Rotorua thermal vents) & bacon (from Arnold’s bacon & cheese flavored crackers we snacked on)
  • 2 Countdown supermarkets and 1 Pac n Save all in one block - bought local wines & brekky foods
  • Dinner with Penny Franklin’s friends Terry & Kaye Exeter at Boardwalk Café - bluenose fish special & Monteith’s Dark beer; chatted for several hours about traveling, politics, NZ v US differences, etc.
  • Weather was overcast in Rotorua and most of drive until we reached the bay area, then sunny w/blue skies, then overcast again, then partly cloudy night
Wellington 8/28
  • Left Napier at 9am; mostly sunny skies. Took the scenic drive up to Te Mata via Havelock North for 360 degree views. Passed more vineyards & orchards. Continued south on Hwy 2. More green hills, sheep, cows.
  • Spotted sign for Tui Brewery so stopped there to have a beer and eat our pbj.
  • Rained most of the way to Wellington. Low rainbow. Hwy is main road through small towns so have to decelerate to 50kph or less every 15km or so. Curvy mountain road with no warning.
  • Stopped in Lower Hutt but road back to hwy was not well-marked so wasted 30 minutes driving around; finally got directions at a liquor store and, a short drive along the esplanade later, with views of the bay & downtown Wellington, we were in the city
  • Many streets are one way so luckily we had good directions to the YHA and parked on street (free after 4pm Sat and all day Sun)
  • Huge hostel: got a 6th (top) floor double room but only one women’s toilet & two showers for entire floor
  • Weather was holding but much cooler & windy here; went for a walk along waterfront then had beer & potato wedges at Mac’s Brewery
  • Walked up Cuba Mall then down to Courtenay Street but even budget restaurant main courses with exception of fast food Chinese were $18+
  • Went to New World grocery store across street from hostel -- they have everything! Bought 18 huge live green-lipped mussels (1.4 kg) for $4.50 plus fettucine & fresh baby spinach. I steamed the mussels in Vidal (Hawkes Bay) Chardonnay leftover from yesterday then drank a Martinborough Sauvignon Blanc with our delicious budget meal.
  • Did laundry while mapping our South Island itinerary
  • Went to bed after 11pm to loud laughter & yelling of younger hostel-goers
Wellington-Picton 8/29
  • Rainy day; got up at 8am, had breakfast, packed, put stuff in car
  • Walked through farmer’s market on the quay
  • 2+hrs wandering around excellent Te Papa museum
  • Lunch at Khmer Restaurant
  • Grocery shopped at New World for tonight’s dinner on the ferry
  • Took free 1hr Parliament tour
  • Visited Old St Paul’s church (free)
  • Drove to Mt Victoria for 360 degree views in rain
  • Got in line for ferry by 5:30pm; didn’t drive on until 6pm
  • Settled in; ate dinner, rechecked drive times for South Island itinerary and revised slightly
  • Boat is rocking
Picton-Kaikoura 8/30
  • 6:30am wake up
  • Girl's netball tournament in Blenheim but 2 teams staying at our hostel in Picton
  • drove part of Queen Charlotte Drive - Marlborough Sound; beautiful views with some sunshine & fog
  • started seeing hitchhikers for the first time
  • Truck accident on coastal hwy near Kaikoura had closed road for 2 hours, but we arrived just after it had reopened
  • Close encounters with fur seal pups
  • $145 2.5hr whale watch boat trip canceled at last minute due to rough seas (would have gotten 80% money back if no whales sighted)
  • Decided not to do 30 minute $165 whale watch by plane because previous flight didn’t see any and there’s no money back guarantee
  • Disappointed we didn’t get to see any whales but glad we saw so many seals for free
  • Ocean view from YHA on the esplanade
  • Crayfish fritter lunch $9ea from pop-up truck on Fyffe Quay (whole crayfish -- as big as lobsters -- were $50 each!)
  • Hilltop/farmland hike over private land on Peninsula Walkway; very windy; seal colonies below
  • Booked accommodations & got itinerary assistance at iSite; started pouring rain while we were there
  • Filled up gas tank for tomorrow’s long drive
  • Bought groceries for tonight’s dinner (fettucine w/meat sauce, broad beans) + snacks; bulk pistachios were $2.99 per 100 grams, but when we checked out they rang up as $15 b/c we had scooped up 0.5kg (at $29.90/kg); needless to say they got returned immediately!
  • Booked remaining YHA accommodations in New Zealand through the hostel b/c there's no charge for the service
  • Nice bottle of local Pinot Noir for $10NZD complimented our dinner at the hostel
Kaikoura - Franz Josef 8/31
"The Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers are unique relics of the last ice age. Mighty rivers of solid white, tumbling down ice-hewn rock valleys, they are classically beautiful in the glacial sense. Nowhere else in the world have glaciers advanced so close to the sea at this latitude"
  • Got up at 7am; left hostel at 8:40; arrived in FJ just before 5pm with stops in Hanmer Springs, Reefton for picnic lunch, Hokitika
  • Overcast in Kaikoura, rainy all the way across Mt Lyford & Kaikoura range; sunny along west coast until just before FJ
  • Black lambs on some farms
  • Farms w/high fences for raising deer
  • What’s the deal with the 1080 protest signs?
  • Walked the full circuit of FJ to check out restaurant menus but everything was at least $16 per main course so we opted for the grocery store
  • Beautiful “golden glow/alpenlight” sunset in FJ
  • Homemade dinner: pan-seared lamb steaks, couscous flavored w/veggie soup packet, spinach, another bottle of Montana Pinot Noir -- all for $24NZD
  • Free sauna at YHA reminds me how much I want to install one in my own home someday!
Franz Josef - Wanaka 9/1
  • Up at 7am; out by 9am; arrived Wanaka by 3:30pm
  • 1.5hr RT hike to face of Franz Josef glacier; spotted several guided glacier walk groups but otherwise had the hike to ourselves; silence/flowing water; was raining when we left hostel but was just clear enough to see sunshine on the glacier; clouds moved in as we walked back to car
  • Fox Glacier looks different than FJ so nice to see both; walked part of trail about 20min RT to get better view of glacier face; beautiful blue pools of water reflecting snow-capped peaks; started raining as we got in car
  • Picnic in car at Lake Paringa (too windy to sit outside)
  • Steady rain over Haast Pass, couldn’t see mountains; weather finally cleared at Makarora to see Lakes Wanaka & Hawea - stopped several times for pictures
  • home cooked meal: mixed seafood in alfredo sauce on fettucine with mixed veggies + Gunn Estate ‘08 Chardonnay
  • Wanaka YHA has full service “cabins” with 6 bunks each (we shared ours with an older French guy); step outside to views of lake & snow-covered mountains
  • Very glad the iSite rep in Kaikoura suggested we continue on to Wanaka today instead of staying in Haast; we were already passing through Haast by 1:30pm and would have been bored to tears unless we had driven out to Jackson Bay
  • Can easily drive for 20-30min and not see another car/person
Wanaka - Te Anau 9/2
"An early European explorer described Fiordland as ""utterly useless except for mountaineers"", and that's why it's still so pristine."
  • Got up at 7am; cooked breakfast sandwiches (ham, eggs, cheese on toast w/kiwi fruit) with Smokey the hostel cat standing beside me
  • Let Greg drive for the first time from Wanaka to Queenstown (117km)
  • Pitstop in Q’town. Beautiful scenery but overcast & wet
  • Nice drive along shore of Lake Wakatipu
  • Deer farms around Mossburn
  • Arrived at Te Anau around 1:30PM
  • Wanted to book Milford Sound trip for tomorrow (our only day to do it) but forecast for heavy snow tonight so they’re closing the road at 5:30PM; hostel advised booking day trip to Doubtful Sound instead; I called Trips & Tramps and decided to book Milford Sound with them anyway and we’ll know by 8:30am if it’s totally cancelled
  • visited Te Anau Wildlife Center to see rare birds (takahe) but only saw a few as most were hiding in greenery
  • Quiet night at hostel: cooked dinner (pasta w/Italian sausage & red sauce, Goldridge Estate Marlborough Pinot Noir ‘09), did laundry, some time online
Milford Sound day trip 9/3
  • Up at 6:45; cooked full breakfast; Steve from Trips & Tramps picked us up at the hostel at 8:45; returned @ 5:15
  • Only one other couple (Peter & Leith from Cairns) on our tour
  • Road into sound was closed until 11am but we stopped several times for short hikes and morning tea & biscuits, so gates were open when we went through
  • First real snow accumulation (good snowballs!) at Monkey Creek
  • Trips & Tramps contracts to carry the mail so we made a couple of short stops (newspaper to hotel not yet open for season, personal mail to huge 22k acre farm)
  • Learned about stoats - the pest like a weasel that is being eradicated by trapping
  • 1080 is cyanide in pellet form dropped from helicopters to kill possums
  • Swarming sand flies at the boat dock
  • Captain opened bow sail on Tasman Sea
  • Saw Fiordland Crested Penguin, bottlenose dolphin, NZ fur seals (male juveniles banished from colony)
  • Keas outside of Homer Tunnel on return
  • Dinner: pan fried hoki, veggies, leftover pasta, White Cliff ‘09 Chardonnay (from Hastings)
  • 300th trip advisor travel map location for and 300th guided tour for Steve
Te Anau - Dunedin 9/4
  • Up at 7:30; on road by 9:30
  • Earthquake during night centered in Christchurch - I dreamt that I felt motion sick from either rocking of a boat or riding in a car but I didn’t actually wake up
  • Southern Scenic Route
  • Greg drove from c.1899 Clifden suspension bridge to Invercargill
  • Had planned to spend more time walking around Invercargill, but weather was windy & rainy so we just drove around Dee & Tay Streets and stopped at Invercargill Brewery for unofficial beer tasting; bought a 2ltr bottle of Pitch Black and a single serve bottle of The Mussel Inn Black Beer
  • Ate our pbj on the road
  • Turned off the main highway at Fortrose to explore The Catlins
  • Slope Point - southernmost point of the South Island, extremely windy and lambing season so path closed to actual location thru sheep field
  • Rainy for ½ day & extremely windy all day
  • Other stops: Curio Bay - petrified forest of 180 million year old fossilized Jurassic era trees & evidence of penguins but no sightings, Porpoise Bay - think we saw one Hector‘s Dolphin, hike to Nugget Point c.1869 lighthouse, fur seals, birds on cliff face, pair of yellow-eyed penguins from viewing blind at Roaring Bay
  • escaped baby lamb running towards us on road
  • Driving at night for first time long distance (no street lights, 2 lane road, 100kph)
  • Arrived in Dunedin at 7:45; checked into hostel; got dinner (heat & eat chicken & mushroom pasta and butter chicken w/rice) at Countdown
Dunedin 9/5
  • Slept in until 8am
  • Drove out to end of the Otago Peninsula along Portobella Road to Royal Albatross Centre; watched spotted shags nesting, floating on strong wind gusts w/seagulls; looked around the free part of the center, saw an albatross gliding just as we were leaving; drove back via high route to Larnach Castle but couldn’t see castle from road without paying entry fee
  • Smaller breweries were closed (Sunday/Father’s Day) but went to Eureka Café for lunch and drank Emerson’s Porter & Pilsner and 8 Wired Brewing Rewired
  • Walked around the old railway station and the Octagon (church & town hall were closed), picked up dinner groceries (cajun chicken soup, Puhoi Valley gorgonzola cheese) at Countdown
  • Came back to hostel to confirm flights, Seoul accommodations, read news reports of Christchurch earthquake & Fox Glacier plane crash (killed 9 people on takeoff)
Dunedin - Barry’s Bay/Akaroa 9/6
  • Up at 7am; left hostel at 9:30
  • Rained all the way to Oamaru - drove around neat old town; didn’t see any penguins
  • Stopped at Temuka livestock sale
  • Saw first earthquake damage in Lincoln plus cracks & lumps on Hwy 75 to Akaroa
  • We’re the only guests at Halfmoon Cottage - beautiful converted house on Barry’s Bay
  • Drove into Akaroa and saw earthquake damage - landslides, cracked roads, collapsed chimneys, broken memorial
  • this would be a great place to come in the summer and quietly spend a week hiking, kayaking, sailing, and just hanging out on the wraparound porch eating local cheese and drinking local wine
  • home-cooked dinner: roasted lamb chops, couscous, pumpkin soup, Whitestone Brie, remainder of Invercargill Pitch Black, The Mussel Inn Dark Horse black beer
Barry’s Bay - Christchurch 9/7
  • Up at 6:30am, out by 8:30
  • Did not sleep well last night due to aftershocks. Felt the first one while I was cooking dinner around 6pm; multiple ones during the night that kept us awake, first with rumbling noise then with walls & bed shaking (one registered 5.4 on Richter scale)
  • On drive into CHC airport area to drop off rental car encountered major street damage north of Te Tapu
  • Christchurch city center is ghost town. ALL but a couple businesses closed even though many are not condemned but have only been inspected from outside. Saw lots of fallen bricks, chimneys, cracks in walls, broken glass
  • Curfew in effect 7pm-7am so we transferred our hostel reservation from the YHA City Center to YHA Rolleston as we need to catch the shuttle to the airport tomorrow at 4:45AM.
  • Dropped bags at hostel and took a long walk around the city center. I do mean AROUND because most of the streets going through the middle of town were blocked by police & military due to unstable buildings.
  • Only businesses open on far side of town near Polytechnic University were Countdown supermarket and adjacent food court where we had lunch - lemongrass chicken soup noodles & spicy beef soup noodles
  • I had forgotten until Greg reminded me at lunch today that we “experienced” the earthquake simulator at Te Papa Museum in Wellington last week. Little did we know that we’d be “living” it a few days later!
  • Only business open on our side of town was Dux de Lux Brewery where we drank beer on the outside patio and spent the last of our NZDs
  • Walked through botanic gardens; overcast & damp but nice, quiet, some flowers/trees blooming, waterfowl
  • Ate light dinner of leftover couscous, foraged broccoli, 2 fried eggs; hummus & crackers; The People’s Pinot Noir
  • Quick showers since under water restrictions
Christchurch - Sydney - Seoul 9/8
  • Up at 4:15; shuttle p/u at 4:45
  • I only felt 2 aftershocks during the night; one stronger than the other but both enough to wake me up
  • Our Air New Zealand ticket included “The Works” (free movies, alcohol, breakfast)
  • Asiana - long 10 hour flight but got 2 hot meals plus a snack
Here are the links to my New Zealand photo albums:

North Island photos

South Island photos

Milford Sound photos

One month review

Obviously this is a bit overdue as we passed the one month mark on 02SEP, but I actually wrote this around that time and just haven't had a good opportunity to upload until now.

Australia Summary
Australia is a relatively easy but expensive place to travel. Probably on par with New York City, where I lived off & on for the past 10 years. A bunk in an average hostel is $25 per night; a private double is closer to $30pp. A budget hot meal is $8 and up, not including drink. Public transportation within any city center averages almost $4 per ride. Flights between major cities, with the exception of the far west, cost around $150OW. My favorite experiences in Australia generally were snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef despite the bad weather that day, our 3-day trip to Kangaroo Island, the food markets in each city - especially Adelaide's Central Market, and hanging out with our new couchsurfing friends.

A few other comments about our trip so far:
  • Less free wifi than expected and connections slow at best
  • Cool weather but never so rainy that we felt like we couldn’t venture out
  • English spoken everywhere if you can get past the Aussie accents
  • Mixed reviews of independently-owned hostels (cleanliness, noise, amenities, "free" breakfast)
  • Doing laundry is a bit costly at $3 each to wash & dry and $1-2 for powder
  • Have had to check my backpack on all flights due to very tight carry-on baggage restrictions (size & weight limits)
I also wanted to mention my original packing list. I have used pretty much every item I packed so am happy with my overall selections/amounts with a couple of minor issues:
  • My spork apparently broke on the flight over even though it was in my carry-on bag. I had used the spork previously for our Yellowstone & Crater Lake vacations so I'm not sure what happened, but the manufacturer was responsive to my customer service email and offered to send me a couple of replacements while we're traveling or else reimburse me for the replacement cost.
  • One of my convertible ExOfficio shirts has come apart at the cuff and I just need to take the time to hand sew it back together.
  • My REI fleece jacket's right arm seam started coming apart on the flight from Los Angeles to Sydney and eventually pulled all the way out. Fortunately it was double-stitched and the second seam is holding so far.
  • My pair of REI capri pants is too big in the waist. The only way I can wear them is with Greg‘s belt cinched up as tight as possible.
  • My cute Merrell street shoes aren’t sturdy and supportive enough for all the walking we're doing. The only reason I brought them and not my Merrell hiking boots was due to space constraints in my backpack. I purchased a new pair of waterproof Oboz hiking boots (company headquartered in Bozeman, MT) at a Kathmandu store in Rotorua, NZ. They weren't cheap, but I can now walk miles without any discomfort.
  • My favorite items that I'm most thankful for so far: my Timex Expedition watch with Indiglo, dual time zones & alarms; a reusable grocery bag; eBags packing cubes that keep my backpack organized; my 3 pairs of Columbia Titanium Mumbai Mover pants - perfect fit, very chic, quick drying; SmartWool socks; long underwear to sleep in on those cold nights; Hilo Hatties (rubber flip flops) for relaxing at the hostel; XL travel towel (as opposed to the smaller ones I've carried in the past).

Australia's southeastern cities

Greg & I spent several days each in two of Australia’s great cities: Adelaide & Melbourne. Here are some of my notes from our time there:

  • fairly compact, easy to navigate grid layout
  • Rundle Mall shops closed at 5pm, even the grocery store
  • public transportation to the airport was a reasonable $4.70OW
  • active if compact Chinatown with great, cheap food court
  • fantastic market
Some free things we enjoyed in Adelaide (descriptions copied from
  • Adelaide Central Market - Adelaide's Central Market has been in operation for over 130 years. It features around 120 shops and stalls bursting with people and fresh food. The markets are on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
  • Art Gallery of South Australia - Plenty of European art and Aboriginal art on display.
  • Botanic Gardens on North Terrace - Adelaide's beautiful botanic gardens date back to the mid 1800's. You'll find a varied mix of mature gardens for strolling through.
  • sprawling but with excellent public transportation (trams, buses, trains) except cheapest way to get to airport is Skybus $16OW + your connecting transport cost
  • disappointed by small Greek area and subdued Chinatown; maybe both are better later in the evening as we were walking around that area in the middle of the day
  • South Yarra was a great area to stay - cheap restaurants, shopping, accessibility, grocery stores open late
  • Aussie Rules Football at MCG
Some free things we enjoyed in Melbourne (descriptions again copied from same website as above):
  • Free tram around Melbourne - Any Melbourne visit isn't complete without a ride on a Melbourne icon, the tram. And the best way to get around the city is on the free City Circle Tram. The circuit takes about 30 minutes but you can get on and off as many times as you want. City Circle Trams are burgundy and gold in colour and the stops are specially marked.
  • Wander the Narrow Streets and Lanes - Take some time to wander through the quaint, very European narrow lanes of Melbourne's CDB, especially around Flinders Lane. Mind you, you'll be tempted to sit and sip lattes because these lanes are lined with delicious cafes and restaurants.
  • NGV International - Australia’s oldest public art museum and home to one of the country's most important art collections with everything from Egyptian and Roman antiquities and Asian art, through to Renaissance, Baroque and everything up to and including contemporary art. 180 St Kilda Road. Open daily except Tuesdays, 10am-5pm.
  • Queen Victoria Market - On the corner of Victoria and Elizabeth Streets, there's around 1000 traders selling everything from fruit and vegetables, fresh produce and delicatessen goods to clothing, plants and pets sold at this market. Market Days: Tue and Thur 6am-2pm, Fri 6am-6pm, Sat 6am-3pm, Sun 9am-4pm. Closed: Mondays, Wednesdays, and public holidays.
  • Royal Botanic Gardens - 35 hectares of landscaped gardens near the centre of the city on the South Bank of the Yarra. They are widely regarded as the finest botanical gardens in Australia, and among the best in the world. Free guided walks or self-guided audio walks are available. Open daily from 7.30am-6pm April to October and until 7.30pm November to March.
  • SLV - Take a free one-hour tour of the domed La Trobe Reading Room, the elegant Cowen Gallery and the new Dome Gallery at the State Library of Victoria. 328 Swanston St. Open daily, 10am-6pm, and until 9pm Monday to Thursday.

The link to my Picasa Web album of Adelaide is embedded in this post's title. Here's the link to the Melbourne album: