After leaving Indonesia, we headed to Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. While we only spent three days in each of those cities, we felt like we gained a pretty good sense of both of them. They were unique and served as a good transition from the rawness of Indonesia to the familiarity that we would feel once we landed in Australia. As Sarah noted in her last post, she had grown a bit weary of travel and was homesick for our farmhouse in Wisconsin. We said our good byes at the Kuala Lumpur airport and she returned to the United States as Max and I carried on to Australia for the next leg of our trip.
We took a redeye flight to Sydney and spent two days wandering the large city. We checked out the harbor, walked across the Sydney bridge, and traveled their metro system. It was nice and I can understand why it’s often rated as a great city, but wasn’t “blown away” by it. Sometimes we misalign our expectations of things and I did that with Sydney. One of the blessings and curses of seeing a lot of places is that you are exposed to so much and at the same time one becomes a bit callous to it all. Had we just arrived in Australia after a daylong flight from the United States, I’m pretty sure I would have been more impressed with the city. It just didn’t give off as much energy as Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, and Singapore. The lack of racial diversity was also very noticeable to both Max and me.
From Sydney we rented a car and headed West to the Blue Mountains region for two nights. We did some smaller hikes and some swimming. We then drove the “bush” route (vs. the coastal highway) north for over 1,000
kilometers to the Gold Coast region located in Queensland. It was a pretty amazing drive and we were impressed with the diversity of landscape. Once on the Gold Coast, we stayed in the beach town of Palm Springs at an AirBnB unit ;pcated in a residential neighborhood a couple of blocks off the beach. We rented surfboards and ended up surfing (or at least trying to) every one of the 9 days that we spent there. It was fun exploring much of the 90 kilometer beach coast looking for places that would suit our aspiring surfing capabilities, but often the waves were way too large for us or nothing at all. It made us appreciate the decent surf we had while we were in Indonesia. We then spent the last two days heading back South to Sydney via the coastal highway to catch our flight to New Zealand.
I’m glad we had the opportunity to see and visit Australia. Had we not traveled there during this adventure, I think there always would have been a part of me feeling like I missed something. It’s a huge country and it would take some serious time to cover and appreciate more of the geography. That stated, I’d still feel pretty comfortable recommending many other destinations around the world to others before suggesting Australia. In many ways, it felt much too like many parts of the United States. It was an easy place to travel and there were not too many things that surprised me. Driving on the left, picking up on quirky terms used, impressive workout culture of the Gold Coast, and the seemingly constant beautiful weather were all positive takeaways for me.
Though I might not have been able to give Australia a fair shake due to the fact that we didn’t go as deep as we could have, I think we did a pretty good job of digesting as much as New Zealand as one can in under two weeks. We landed late in New Zealand and were picked up by Sarah’s distant cousins who live in Auckland. Stan and Justine graciously allowed us to stay with them for 5 nights in the North Shore area of Auckland. With them as guides, we saw numerous city sites (Auckland Museum, naval fortress, and gardens) and got a much better sense of Kiwi culture. We also spent a day ferrying out to Waiheke Island to visit with two of the four wonderful travel mates we met while in Vietnam. Liz and Anna were spending some time at guest cottage with family and warmly hosted us there.While there, we enjoyed somehiking along an outdoor art installation along the coast, great lunch and some time on the beach. It was great to catch up with them and look forward to crossing paths with them soon. The city of Auckland and surrounding islands in the bay remind me very much of the Seattle area, but with much more sun.
Stan and Justine lent us one of their cars and Max and I did a three-day driving tour of the region north of Auckland on the North Island. We spent a night in the town of Paihia on the Northeast Coast and then a night in Dargaville near the Eastern Coast before heading back to Auckland. The stops on incredibly remote, desolate beaches will forever be a memory for us.
We spent the night in Auckland, but woke the next morning to pick up our campervan. Yep, campervan. I was pretty sure I would never drive another campervan after our 75-day, 12,000 kilometer, 18 country journey through Europe, but somehow we were back at it. Actually, it was a no-brainer decision once Justine made me aware of the opportunity to do a campervan relocation. In New Zealand and Australia (and the United States to a lesser degree), campervan companies are constantly needing to get campervans to other parts of the country for future rentals. For $1/day plus the cost of fuel, we had 6 days to drive a campervan 1,500 kilometers from Auckland to Christchurch. It truly was a great and cost effective way to see the parts of New Zealand. In between driving, we rafted the Kaituna River that took us over a 6-meter waterfall, hiked 18 miles on the Tongariro crossing, crossed from the North Island to South Island and a picturesque ferry ride (the $340 ferry cost was reimbursed as part of the relocation), swam in several rivers and stopped at a few more beaches. The drive across the Arthur’s Pass was one of the highlights for me as I started to get a sense of what the balance of the South Island must look like. We arrived in Christchurch and flew back inexpensively to Auckland in time for our departure flight to Buenos Aires the following day.
New Zealand is far away. Food and lodging there are expensive. Those items stated, it is one of the most picturesque places we’ve traveled. Different, but almost as awe-inspiring as Iceland. Thanks to our gracious hosts (thanks Stan and Justine!) and the campervan relocation, and given we were already halfway around the world, New Zealand ended up being less costly than just about every other country we’ve visited. While one could easily spend several months getting to know both islands, it sure feels like 3 weeks in a campervan would be a great way to take in the majority of the island and not break the bank while doing it.