Living in a Marsupial World
 
Picture
Picture
With the car sold and our Tasmania experience coming to a close, we were ready to complete our Australian year in the place where it all began: Melbourne. We had one month before we had to return to the States and wanted to take full advantage of this fabulous city that, up until this point, we had only visited in several day increments. We also were eager to finally get some quality time with Gareth, whose incredible work ethic and endless globetrotting makes him a tough man to wrangle. He was out-of-country once again when we arrived back on the mainland, so until his return we found ourselves once again adopted like abandoned kittens by some compassionate new friends. 


Picture
Our Heroes: Jen and Alasdair!
First there was Suzanne, a really sweet woman we met through Lianne and Martyn who had only known us a couple of days before offering us her home to stay in for a night. She really helped us get back on our feet after landing in town. Then there was Jen and Alasdair, a couple we met while WWOOFing at Neville’s property up in the Kimberly. We really hit it off with them up in Udialla Springs and they had told us if we were ever in Melbourne to look them up. Hoping to see this great pair again we did just that, and within minutes of a phone call we had a home again! 


Picture
There really are no words to adequately describe how overwhelmingly amazing Jen and Alasdair are as human beings. Their only previous interactions with us had been for a meager few days on the other side of the country months before. Nonetheless, they gave us an entire room in their house and treated us like family during our three-week stay. Not only that, but for a good portion of that time they were out of town and left us in charge of minding the house and the garden! We had trouble forming complete sentences most of the time; we were so overwhelmed with gratitude. It was strange for us to be in someone’s home without the stipulation of manual labor. For the first time in our Australian home-stay travels we weren’t WWOOFers, we were guests. This concept took some serious getting use to, and much of the time we felt so awkward about it that we kept asking them if they had projects we could do. We ended up cooking dinner a couple times and did dishes when we could as a small gesture of thanks.  


Picture
A meager offering.
Picture
Ben on the St. Kilda Boardwalk
With a stable place to call home, we were able to explore the parts of the greater Melbourne area we hadn’t seen before, and we did it the best way we know how: by walking everywhere. We finally made it down to the suburb of St. Kilda, Melbourne’s semi-grungy, artsy beach community. Immediately we understood why this place was so popular, and often referenced in songs by Aussie bands like The Cat Empire. It wasn’t very big, but it has a great alternative charm about it, not to mention a long stretch of sandy beach and boardwalk. The St. Kilda sands were a prime choice for residents to escape from the city in the city: for a coffee, for a beer, for a swim, for a read and a nap. We ended up spending our afternoon wandering up and down the waterfront and meandering into the suburb’s quaint shopping district for a nosh. Other than the intensive sun exposure, it was a great day.


Picture
Ben's Hair: 100% Organic, Grass-Fed, Born and Raised in Australia
Picture
A St. Kilda Icon Ready to Eat You
Picture
Nothing better than tapas and local beer after a walk by the sea.
Picture
Waiting for the Tram.
Picture
Rrrawwrr...
We were also able to visit some museums that we had been meaning to see. We particularly liked the modern exhibits at the National Gallery of Victoria, and the delightfully interactive Australian Centre for the Moving Image, which featured an amazing exhibition called Screen Worlds that touched on early film, animation, video games, Australian cinema and the future of moving picture media. There was a great display celebrating the Aussie accent, where you stepped inside a white plastic dome and 360 degrees of screens and speakers played clips and sound bytes from iconic Australian films and advertisements. One of our favorites was from an older film where a backwater Aussie receives a cold beer and says, “Aw, thanks Cobba', I needed one of those – I was feeling dry as a dingo’s donga’!” Pure poetry.


Picture
Fall along the Yarra
As we wandered through various parts of the city from day to day, the reality of our impending return to the states became clearer and our preliminary nostalgia for the great nation of Australia blossomed. The transition from summer to fall in Melbourne only sweetened the atmosphere. We began to pay closer attention to the subtle things we had grown accustomed to over the past year: gum trees, kookaburras, cockatoos, Aussie slang, jellyfish warnings, flat whites, overpriced food and beer, cheap sushi, pre-paid cell service and crappy mobile broadband, French and German backpackers, awesome public radio, new 80’s inspired music, beets. Even though we were still in the country we began to miss just about all of these things, except expensive beer – we couldn’t wait to get back to our home country of limitless, reasonably-priced microbrews. 


Picture
A flat white from a trendy laneway cafe
Picture
Walking along Port Phillip Bay
Picture
A beautiful and rare sight, aside from the prices.
Picture
Picture
Picture
Gareth and Phil at the Rainbow
We were lucky enough to spend our final week in the country with the man who started it all: Gareth! Having been an initial supporter of our move across the world and even housing us during our first few days in the country, GB (as he is so known) helped us close out our year in style. He and his fantastic housemates Freya and John let us crash at their flat and, along with Gareth’s lovely girlfriend Steph, joined us for some great nights of dinner, drinks, and conversation. 


Picture
Two particularly epic nights were had in Melbs that month. The first was with GB’s former housemate and NZ Sauvignon Blanc connoisseur, Bec; hot damn, can that woman drink. The second was with GB and crew on our final Friday. I think it’s fair to say that after surviving these two events, the Australian government should grant us our citizenship. One might go so far as to say that these tests of character are probably worth far more than anything immigration officials throw at you in an interview. Perhaps citizenship questions should even include such gems as: “How many hours were you able remain upright while drinking with an Australian?” or “How many beers and/or glasses of wine and/or ‘skittle bombs’ were you able to consume while retaining the ability to form logical sentences?” or “What was the ratio of rounds purchased by you versus rounds purchased by generous new acquaintances?” or “While out Friday the 29th of April, were you more concerned with watching the footie game or commenting on Kate Middleton’s wedding dress?” (This last one’s a trick question, as we witnessed both done simultaneously).  


Picture
Picture
Death by Duck at the Old Kingdom
Big thanks go out to Bec for our first evening out. The month of April was officially initiated with that night out in Port Melbourne. She is a genuine Aussie through and through and treated us to a wonderful time. We only hope we can return the favor when she comes out to the states! 

Our final weekend was far more than we could’ve hoped for as sendoffs go. On Friday the 29th or, as more people would probably qualify it, the day of the Royal Wedding, we gathered together with Aussie friends old and new for a night on the town in Fitzroy. It began with dinner at a Melbourne institution, the Old Kingdom, a traditional Chinese restaurant that serves you three courses family style, all of which are duck. The place is BYO, so we came armed with beer and wine to begin the night in style. After sufficiently stuffing ourselves full of Peking goodness, we waddled over to the Rainbow Room, the very first place we set foot in after entering the country almost 12 months prior! 


Picture
The Rainbow Room is another Melbourne institution. Bar, music venue, and beer garden all in one, it’s a truly fantastic spot to spend a warm fall evening. In the great tradition of Australian drinking, the night progressed with a continuous buying of rounds, whether it was beer (in a pot or a pint) or tequila, it all was bought for the greater good and to strengthen the bonds between old mates and new connections. Needless to say, after a few rounds camaraderie was high and our group broke out into a moving rendition of, from what I vaguely recall, Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believin.’’ Some feisty games of pool were had out in the beer garden while the TV alternated between Aussie Rules and the Royal Wedding. It was agreed upon by several of us that the wedding’s classiness would’ve greatly benefited from a Unity Sombrero. Dancing ensued as the hours got later and the band brought the house down. The lead singer had a great voice and the vibe was classically funk rock. 


Picture
"you got...that loooovin feeeeelin'....WHOAAA that looooovin feeeeeeelin"
Picture
Picture
Picture
Men of the Evening: GB, John, and "The Wombat"
Everyone got home safely that night, though the means by which John made it back to the flat still bears an air of mystery. We then began what became for most of us a three-day recovery. Luckily, Steph and Gareth graciously invited us to join them for a relaxing rest of the weekend at her parent’s place in Ocean Grove (near the start of the Great Ocean Road) to recuperate. 


Picture
Steph and Gareth point the way at Point Lonsdale
Picture
At Steph's family's place in Ocean Grove
Picture
Thank you dear boots for all your loyal service
The bittersweet feeling really kicked in when we started doing final sweeps for belongings as we packed up for our flights back to the states. We were leaving our home of 12 incredible months, and we each had a really long day ahead of us, full of of stale airports, sore necks and recycled air. Burning our passports and disappearing into the outback was sounding a little appealing at that moment. There is so much to love about Australia - the people, the animals, the land...the accent! Sure, it has some seriously rough patches in its history, as well as some social and environmental issues that need immediate attention, but the same can be said for any country. What makes Australia great is the fact that its people are constantly striving to make their country better - and not necessarily for the eyes of the rest of the world, but in their own eyes. If an Aussie isn't completely loving his/her lot in life, there is a good chance he/she is going to do something about it, right after this next round of beer.

Picture
Picture
There are far too many people to thank for helping us along the way. We would not have had such an amazing time were it not for all the characters we met. To all those who took us in when we had few to no other options, we wish you the best of the best that life can offer. You are champions of the human race, beacons to which all others should aspire. Hopefully you know who you are. We will never forget you, and will do our damndest to stay in touch as we go on to other adventures. Gareth, you superman you - we don't think you need any more wellwishes, because there ain't no mountain high or valley low enough that will keep you from accomplishing anything you set out to do. We'll do it anyway - best of luck to you (and Steph!) and never stop a rockin. As far as we're concerned, you're family now, so if you ever need to mooch anything from us, don't hesitate to ask, or better yet, just show up at our doorstep some day. We'll throw something on the barbecue.

Picture
Au revoir l'Australie, nous vous aimons!
* Keep tuning in to our blog in the coming weeks and months - we'll be updating with posts about our Australia Top 10s, Aussie Beer Reviews, and Tips for Backpackers! We may even extend our content to post-Australia adventures back in the States... 
 
 
Picture
The first Mexican in Australia conquers the columnar basalts of Mount Wellington!
On March 15th, our friend Matt flew all the way from Vancouver to spend just one week gallivanting around Tasmania with the two of us. Needless to say, he is a champion and a gentleman scholar. The trip was a very last minute decision, feasible only due to some logistical magic happening for Matt’s work schedule, but we couldn’t have been more excited to share some Aussie adventuring with one of our best friends. Though we hadn’t sold the car at this point, we determined that the best and simplest way to spend our week in Tassie would be to rent a campervan. The ease of being able to just park and sleep or wake up and drive away, and avoiding the hassles of tent camping, just made too much sense for the time we had. 
Picture
So, on the 15th we rocked up to Devil Campers who had cut us a deal on a three-person van, and made for the Hobart airport for our rendezvous with Señor Rosales. We hadn’t seen this kid for over a year and the reunion was awesome. After a long series of hugs we piled into the camper and went straight into Hobart for a drink at James Squire, a Victorian brewery, in the Salamanca Market area. After catching up and agreeing that there was indeed some decent beer in Australia, we picked up some lamb snags (read sausages) and drove to a campsite on one of the southern peninsulas next to the channel. 


Picture
Picture
Fishing the D'Entrecasteaux Channel
By sunrise the guys were up and out with their fly rods in tow, challenging the Aussie bait fisherman along the channel waters. After a few hours of fishing and photography, we decided it was high time for a spot of caffeine. Not far up the road was Grandvewe Sheep Cheesery – Tasmania’s only all-sheep cheese farm! After a free cheese tasting, we sat down for a coffee on their sundeck. While the cheese and coffee were delightful, the bathroom turned out to be a highlight of Grandvewe. The bathroom walls were covered in sheep-related jokes, some of which were actually pretty funny. i.e. Why do Scotsman shepherds wear kilts? So the sheep don’t hear the zipper! Ha.


Picture
Picture
Picture
Nothing puts hair on your chest like espresso and cheese!
Picture
Isn't it bromantic?
Picture
Climbing Mt Wellington with Hobart below
We ended up packing a ton into that first full day. After the cheesery we summited Mount Wellington, the imposing rock mound that hovers behind the city of Hobart. Much like Mt Washington in the White Mountains, Mt Wellington’s weather (and the general weather in Tassie) is incredibly changeable, and many tourists visiting the mountain disappointingly find themselves socked in a cloud at the top. We completely lucked out with an absolutely gorgeous day and had nonstop views of Hobart and the Tasman Peninsula below. The hike itself was short but steep - a great workout - and Matt, like a kid on Christmas, had his first taste of the wonder that is Tasmanian geology, pointing out the awesome columnar basalts on the way up. 


Picture
Picture
Their bromance is everlasting
Picture
Picture
To celebrate our successful ascent, we decided to drop by the famous MONA/Moorilla compound that we had heard so much about. The Moorilla property is located just north of Hobart and is a privately owned enchanted wonderland for arts and culture. It contains a winery, brewery, restaurant, accommodation, concert lawn complete with large bean bags, and the (free!) Museum of Old and New Art – the owner’s private collection (http://mona.net.au/). We arrived late in the afternoon and only had about an hour to tour the museum before closing. Immediately we realized this wasn’t nearly enough time to tour what has to be the coolest, most engaging and entertaining art museum ever imagined. 


Picture
Upon entry we were each handed an iPhone and a headset, and were debriefed as to how to tackle the jungle of art below. Each iPhone had been programmed to track your location in the museum and provided you with a listing of each work of art nearby. When you selected a work of art, you received a series of descriptive articles, critical reviews, and even audio tracks available for browsing, to get a better understanding of the piece. We descended several stories underground to reach the galleries, and ended up immersed in an echoing and mysterious new dimension. 


Picture
In the MONA
Picture
The lower levels of the gallery were cut out of the bedrock, at least 50 ft down. Several of the walls were just enormous swaths of bare rock. The sounds of various mechanical and video works reverberated in an eerie way throughout the chambers, and around every corner were hidden hallways and dark, mysterious passages filled with art. The great thing about the curation was that the old and new art was intermingled – you would walk up to a bizarre contemporary piece and right beside it would be a 4,000-year-old sarcophagus. It put everything into a new perspective and kept every room dynamic and fascinating, a welcome change to the usual museum tradition of chronological curation. 


Picture
Four Moo Brews (not suitable for bogans), Four Moorilla Wines!
After an hour of bewildered wandering, we felt we had barely scratched the surface and were eager for more. Right then and there we decided that we would return to the MONA for another round before the week was up. With the museum closed for the day we sat down for a sunset drink and sampled four Moorilla wines and four Moo Brews. All were decent, but the beers in particular (which are quite new to the market) need a little more complexity to be competitive in the microbrew scene. They were perfect, however, for unwinding after an exhausting but truly incredible day. 


Picture
The mustache officiates the tasting
Picture
Picture
After climbing Mt Wellington, nothing felt better than some wine, beer, and bean bags.
Picture
Picture
Picture
The early morning colors of Tasmania
That night we drove northwest out of the Hobart area toward Mount Field National Park. We found a free campsite along the way that happened to have coin-operated hot showers – jackpot – and settled in for a night of grime-free luxury. While asking fellow campers if they could change some two-dollar coins, a group of German backpackers asked if we wanted some chocolate. After being momentarily sketched out, and then quickly realizing that the “strangers with candy” scenario applies less with people your own age, they explained that they had just been to the Cadbury factory and had 10 kilos of chocolate from an end-of-tour deal. They apparently were already sick of it, so we gladly took about a kilo of lemon-filled deliciousness off their hands.


Picture
The most indiscreet of ninjas at Mt Field NP
Picture
The geologist investigates a new world.
In the morning we drove into Mt Field National Park and paused for a breakfast on the barbie. We had originally intended to climb Mt Field itself, but after speaking to one of the park rangers we determined that a 16km loop around a series of glacial tarns along the ridgeline would give us a longer, more interesting hike. The way the ranger described it, the Mt Field hike was good for viewing Australian plants, while the tarn shelf hike was good for Tasmanian vegetation. We had no idea why he differentiated it this way until we started hiking. Very early along the trail we found ourselves in some bizarre ancient forest. We had never seen such a crazy collection of flora before, even after touring around Tassie for the past two months! Fantastic.


Picture
A local plant - experts welcome to identify
Picture
Putting our heads together to brave the cold and conquer the trail!
Picture
Climbing high into the Snow Gums
Picture
The weather, on the other hand, was a bit bleak, but it made for some pretty epic hiking. The clouds rolled in and out, and even when the wind wasn't gusting, it was ridiculously cold. Before we set off we all suited up in most of our clothing, though in the first mile we de-layered a bit with the 1,000-foot climb. As soon as we reached the top of the shelf, we were treated to some spectacular vistas. The terrain was superb as well, constantly changing and always beautiful. We scrambled over boulders and around gnarly Snow Gums, walked between alpine mosses and across an enormous fault line. Each glacial lake we encountered was unique – scattered along the shelf line like oddly shaped mirrors. 


Picture
The tarn shelf!
Picture
Yes, tarns are this awesome.
Picture
Matt in the Misty Mountains
Picture
Picture
Oh I, could tell you why, the ocean's near the shore
Picture
Ben got the birdman and sucked up his required push-ups
Picture
Picture
Here it is folks, visual proof of cubic wombat poo. And it's always perched on a rock, they love that.
Picture
After such a long, beastly, and gorgeous hike, we slept well that night as we camped by a lake. The next morning we decided to take it easy, but stuck to the plan to check out Lake St Clair. Lake St Clair is Australia’s deepest lake and serves as the southerly endpoint of Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park (where we had climbed Cradle Mountain over the holidays). While the park has some incredible hikes, including the Overland Track, Lake St Clair is also a pretty good spot for fishing, so the guys made a day of it. Though it was a beautiful day and trout were spotted, it ended up being a rather frustrating event for Ben. The local bushes and trees seemed hell-bent on eating most of Ben’s flies, particularly the ones he had just purchased at the local fishing shop that morning. Matt got a strike on a fish but alas, the sucker got away. All in all though it was a beautiful day. 


Picture
Lake St Clair Lagoon
Picture
Picture
Once the boys had their fill and I had fulfilled my fishing photojournalism duties, we had a bit of a wander on some of the mellower local trails. We moseyed along an Aboriginal Cultural walk, which provided sobering information on the lives and annihilation of the indigenous people of Tasmania, as well as some info on the remarkable native plants. 


Picture
Picture
Slackjaw Supreme
Picture
Picture
Queenstown! We Made It!
Our goal for the following day was to reach the west coast; fairly ambitious due to how isolated the west coast is from the center of the island. We tried to take care of a major portion of the drive that night, but as the sun was setting and our gas gauge began to read empty, we found ourselves navigating some intense mountain roads still kilometers away from the nearest town. We were just outside Queenstown, a remote mining town and the only place we’d be able to buy petrol if we didn’t hit empty first. To reach Queenstown, we needed to drive over a mountain pass through a moonscape of once richly forested mountains, now barren from years of mining. Though the site was sad to witness, there was a beauty about it as well, as the sunset cast everything in pink and purple giving everything a surreal alien quality. We reached the crest of the pass and saw twinkling Queenstown sprawled out in the valley far below. After a frighteningly steep and curvy descent, we made it in to town and reached a petrol station just in time! 

Picture
Relieved and not wanting to stay the night, we exited town stage left and pressed on to the next free campsite. At this point the sun had set and the green light was on for all the furry things of Tasmania to try and wreak havoc on our van. As Ben drove, Matt and I did our best to alert him of the dangers popping out on all sides: “Right - wallaby!” “Left - possum.” “RIGHT WALLABY, WALLABY RIGHT!” “Possum. Possum. Wallaby. Possum. Left. Right. Left. Left.” It felt like we were in an interactive video game, and we managed to come away with minimal marsupial carnage. We managed to see (and not maim or kill) a rare spotted quoll too! 


Picture
After making it through the twists and turns and hoards of suicidal animals, we parked our little bunkhouse at Hellyer Gorge and woke up the following morning surrounded by a beautiful temperate rainforest. Just below our campsite along a bushwalking track was the Hellyer River, and the guys of course wasted no time to get out there for a fish. 


Picture
Picture
Picture
Where the Arthur River meets the Ocean on Tassie's West Coast
Finally, after what seemed like an endless, but picturesque drive, we reached the western coast of Tasmania. It was a spectacular site and we decided to have lunch where the Arthur River meets the Indian Ocean. Fishing, of course, ensued as well. Had we more time, we would have been all over that west coast like a bad smell. Alas, we had to continue our journey, but as we made our way eastward we became more excited to see the famous Bay of Fires. 


Picture
Picture
Making new friends.
Picture
Evening at Rocky Cape NP on the North Coast
Picture
Moonrise at Rocky Cape
Picture
Sunrise at Binalong Bay, Bay of Fires
On our way eastward across the state the next day, we managed to break up the drive by pausing in the Tamar Valley wine region near Launceston. Stopping at the Josef Chromy winery, we snuck in for a quick tasting right before they closed. We ended up buying a bottle of their tawny port, which we sampled that night at our beachfront campsite at Binalong Bay in Bay of Fires Conservation Area. We unfortunately arrived at Bay of Fires after the sun had set, so there wasn't much to see. But by sunrise we had a better idea about how the area got its name. 


Picture
Picture
Picture
Picture
The guys fishing out on the point at Bay of Fires
Picture
Roo Steaks!
After the guys got in their morning ocean fish, we all sat down to an awesome brunch, consisting of roo steak and eggs, sauteed veggies and yes, port. Breakfast of Aussie champions! 

We had one last run around on the beach, then headed south again to take in one last tour of the MONA before Matt's return to Vancouver the next morning. 

Picture
Ben make fire.
Picture
Friends don't let friends squat alone.
Picture
Picture
We opted to stay in a caravan park called Treasure Island, located right next door to the Moorilla property, so we could wander over and wander back at our leisure. We had another mind-blowing tour of the MONA's incredible collection, and then made for camp for our final night of Matt-filled celebration in Tassie. For the occasion we picked up some cleanskin* wines for only $4 a pop, which ended up being incredibly delicious. The evening turned into a plethora of curry noodles, sparkling zibbibo, the A-Team, and giggles. All-in-all a fantastic end to a great, but far too short, week with Matt. Three cheers for Matt! See you in North America soon dear friend!

*Australia has a huge number of great wineries, and can only sell a certain amount of wine under their official label. The rest of their surplus then goes out under an anonymous, generic label known as a "cleanskin" and is sold at a much lower price. This means when you buy a cleanskin, you could be getting a really nice bottle of wine for super cheap! 

Picture
Picture
 
 
Picture
Picture
An Indian Motorcyle Club visited on our last days at the Village
By the time we turned onto the main drag toward Margate and our new WWOOFing hosts, we were already breathing heavy sighs of relief. It felt good to finally get out. The Village had had some very good aspects, but after 6 weeks, all we could feel was an overwhelming stagnation of our spirits. We needed a change of scenery bad, and we were on our way to just that. It was obvious from the host’s description that this experience was going to be a lot different from Village life. We were headed for some hard work, but it would be work that put us outside, and would not feature scrubbing toilets and whiffing cleaning product fumes 5 hours a day.


Picture
Rest in peace little mate.
We were a little dismayed, however, when we were confronted with a potentially bad omen. As we zoomed along Eaglehawk Neck, a narrow, sandy isthmus tethering the Tasman Peninsula to the rest of Tasmania, we smacked right into an unwary seagull as it made a futile, flapping attempt to get off the road. Traveling at about 70 kph on slick asphalt in about a metric ton of car, there was little we could do but watch the inevitable unfold. There was no way the car could have missed the little guy, but we couldn’t see any evidence of bird carnage on the road behind us. Mar was horrified but hopeful that by some miracle of Top Gun-esque avionics the seagull had escaped harm. I was less optimistic, and had a sneaking suspicion that we hadn’t yet parted with the bird, that Alby and seagull were still one. I pulled over to check the damage, finding a scene straight out of a Warner Bros cartoon. The poor bird had met the same fate as countless bugs before, squished and lodged in Alby’s grill. After some careful dislodging, Mr. Seagull was (as respectfully as possible) interred in the nearby tall grasses. I couldn’t help but feel a little like a hit-and-run offender as we sheepishly drove away.


Picture
All ominous feelings were dashed aside, however, when we first pulled into Leanne and Martyn’s property – 20 beautiful, forested acres spread across a steep hillside, and surrounded by enormous, swaying eucalypts. We drove up their impossibly steep driveway, passing an incredibly lush, terraced garden and were immediately greeted by Leanne, who showed us to our new digs. Over the last 20 years, Leanne and her partner Marty had constructed several beautiful timber buildings, which included their home, an art studio, workshop, and a two-storey cabin soon to become our residence. 


Picture
Our abode.
During our travels in Australia, we’ve enjoyed a wide spectrum of accommodation – a leaky, duct-taped tent, a bug-infested WWOOFer bunk shack, a retro motel room, and even a cozy guest room in a host’s house. Now we found ourselves settling into a lovely little wood stove-heated mountain retreat with stunning views across the hills, and what was more: we had it all to ourselves! We couldn’t have been more excited to be in this drastically different atmosphere. Though we weren’t far from our previous WWOOFing spot by the sea, we found ourselves completely surrounded by a gloriously different, mountainous landscape, nestled cozily into a sloping valley. The lay of the land acted like a mental security blanket, tucking us in and silently whispering to us “don’t you worry now, those motel toilets and pube-covered shower stalls won’t find you here.” 

Oh yeah, and there was a wood fire-heated hot tub. You haven’t known Jacuzzi-induced, skin-melting satisfaction until you slip into the steaming hot goodness of a hot tub you’ve heated from a pile of wood you’ve split yourself. Just sayin’.


Picture
Our upstairs kitchen/dining area
Picture
Our heat source: wood-burning stove!
Picture
Our view in the morning
Our workdays were the other dramatic change in our lifestyle. Rather than rolling out of bed at 9 or 10, we were up with the sun and out the door by 8. Mornings tended to be quite chilly, but the whole drafty wood cabin, up at dawn experience made Mar nostalgic for her summers in the Rockies as a wrangler. She certainly got her mountain fix in Margate.

Picture
We immediately came to realize that Leanne was an unstoppable, green-thumbed machine. Up before dawn and productively speeding around until dark, she could make tri-athletes look lazy. Every morning, while we stretched and yawned, Leanne was hopped-up on life and energy. It was all we could do just to keep up. Despite the fast pace of the work and my occasional bumbling, Leanne remained amazingly patient and kind. Raised in the countryside of Tasmania, she had a classic, rough-hewn Aussie way about her that showed through in her brand of politeness and tact when confronted with my ineptitude. 

Leanne never showed impatience; instead she just knew the best way to do things, and there were way too many things still to do to wait for me to figure it out on my own. “Yeah, naw, Ben, that’s looking really good what you’ve done there, but if you keep weeding like that you’ll be here ‘til next week!”  Or, “Alright, that looks fine Ben, I think we’re done with that for now, let’s just find something else for you to do.”


Picture
Leanne’s husband Marty was a different story. He was just as kind as Leanne, but he showed it in his own special Kiwi way. As Marty put it, he loved ‘stirring people up’ and ‘taking the piss out’ of people, especially WWOOFers. In case you’re not familiar with the finer points of Australian/Kiwi dialects, ‘taking the piss’ doesn’t involve micturition of any kind, but instead means to basically razz and make fun. As soon as he caught on that we were American, it was downhill from there. It was easy to tell that the man had more than a word to say about the States, and most were less than congratulatory. 

Marty’s comments and cynical observations were altogether in good fun, but after a few obviously playful jabs, his rhetoric turned a bit sour. Most of his lectures were directed at our government, or at our overabundance of religious fanaticism, which we could only agree with most of the time. We were, however, a little pained to be involved in these discussions – we had flown halfway across the world in part to get as far away as possible from the merry-go-round of lunacy that is our country’s political/religious climate.

Picture
Carrots in the garden bed
All political grievances aside, Marty was good people, and he and Leanne were one of the best matches I’ve ever witnessed. Marty was good at taking the piss, but combined with Leanne’s prodigious comedic timing, they were unstoppable. Marty would usually start the process by dropping a few less-than-subtle hints that he had you in his sights, then when you least expected it, Leanne would come out of nowhere with a haymaker that just floored you with embarrassment and laughter. You knew it was a good one when the two of them were bent over laughing – cackling and hooting like hyena-esque teenagers. Their 19-year-old daughter, Clara, got caught in the crosshairs fairly often, but growing up in this environment had made her pretty good at the comebacks. It was a solid, no-holds-barred family dynamic that made dinner time pretty entertaining.


Picture
Ben's po' widdle hands after two long days of wood splitting
Martyn also shared Leanne’s love of hard work. Growing up on a farm in the backcountry of New Zealand, he was practically carved out of wood. I knew from the beginning that if I wanted to gain Marty’s trust and respect, I was going to have to work my ass off. It came as little surprise when Marty took me up the hill to a monstrous pile of chainsawed tree trunks he wanted split. I knew the score as soon as he handed me the axe – this was a test. He wanted to see if I could follow directions, and whether or not I would start complaining when my back started to ache and my hands began to bleed. Well, I certainly felt the pain, but I wasn’t going to whine about it! I had to represent the non-wussies of Amurrica. Marty reminded me that splitting wood was his favorite pastime, and that I should feel honored to have merited an invitation to join him in the activity. “You bet,” I replied as I grunted my axe through another hunk of rock-hard eucalypt and winced as I felt another blister peel off my hand.

Picture
After a good long day sans leeches
Mar’s trials and tribulations, on the other hand, came in the form of slimy, gross leeches. We had heard there were leeches in Tassie, but until Leanne and Marty’s, they had just been the stuff of legend. Mar saw the first one while she weeded the driveway. It was drizzling, which provided prime conditions for the leechies, and as Mar was pulling up some invasive plants, she noticed what she originally thought was a tiny stick inching toward her in a slithering fashion. It was eerie watching it move around, especially when it stood up and elongated like a periscope, as if it was sniffing the breeze. It could somehow detect Mar’s warm-blooded presence - super creepy. Apparently that leech was some kind of scout, and must have notified the other leeches that there was tasty Mar blood around, because soon after this encounter, Mar experienced no less than four leech attacks, of which two were successful. 


Picture
The barbeque area behind Leanne and Marty's: where leeches go to die
The most traumatic experience by far happened when Mar was clearing some bracken from a walking track. As she shook dirt from a bunch of pulled baby ferns, a tiny black leech attached to the root ball flew through the air and landed on her cheek. Mar didn’t notice until she saw the curious-yet-disturbed expression on my face. As we walked to the house to grab some salt from the kitchen, I could hear a slight panic in her voice as she exclaimed, “Oh god, I can feel it’s tiny teeth biting my face! I can feel it wriggling - this is so frickin’ gross!” Luckily, after a liberal dusting of salt, the leech fell off, writhing in leechie pain as it met its salt-encrusted doom.


Picture
Where the food magic happened.
No matter what physically or mentally demanding things happened during our work day, we always knew that we were going to eat like kings when mealtime came around. Leanne was a wonder in the kitchen. Working as efficiently as she did in the garden, she made all manner of delicious and exceedingly healthy vegetarian fare. The really amazing part, though, was that 80-100% of anything on the table at lunch or dinner came from the garden: Herbs, leafy greens, carrots, beets, parsnips, cucumbers, pumpkin, leeks, tomatoes, potatoes, zucchini…etcetera etc. There is definitely something sublimely satisfying, on a basal, primitive level that comes from eating food fresh from the ground, especially when it comes from the front yard.


Picture
Part of our hillside supermarket
Leanne was also very creative with how she used healthy ingredients. For instance, instead of topping a casserole or pasta bake with the usual pound of cheese, she would use thin slices of sweet potato or pumpkin as a top layer, and then lightly sprinkle cheese on top. The end result was a sweet, semi-crunchy crust that delivered the cheesy flavor you craved without the heavy dose of fat. She also often replaced unhealthy dairy products like sour cream and ricotta with Greek style yogurt. By the end of our stay, we were so addicted to yogurt that we were eating it breakfast lunch and dinner. Pizza nights were particularly epic, with Leanne making wholegrain crusts from scratch, followed by a layering ceremony of every available vegetable from the garden. By the time baking commenced, each pizza was heavy with two inches of goodness.


Picture
Picture
Marty and his glorious spread
Mar and I would fill our meat quota on the weekends, when Marty would fire up his homemade brick barbeque and cook up devastating proportions of protein in all shapes and species. Thick slabs of bacon sizzled alongside bubbling eggs, hearty sausages, and hefty filets of Aussie beef. Onions, potatoes and the occasional zucchini were included as well to provide the illusion of a balanced meal. 

It didn’t matter what or how much you wanted, you were getting what Marty deemed suitable, which was usually about enough food to feed a small horse. Feelings of ecstasy and agony were what followed as we each tackled our food piles until we were bursting at the seams. Marty, in his usual fashion, poked fun at me, saying that he wasn’t sure if I deserved so much food, given the fact that the wood pile wasn’t finished yet.


Picture
The Bruny Island House
One special weekend, we had the privilege of spending a day at our hosts’ ocean retreat on Bruny Island: a fantastic, loft style cabin with everything you needed for enjoying yourself by the ocean, including walking tracks to the beach. The main reason for the occasion was the return of Falko, a previous WWOOFer from Germany, who had spent several weeks with Marty and Leanne ten years prior. He was visiting with his wife Saskia and their little boy Felix, retracing his steps as a young backpacker through Tasmania and the rest of Australia. Since Falko’s return was cause for celebration, Mar and I only had a few small tasks around the cabin before kicking back with the rest of the crew. 


Picture
On the ferry to Bruny
Picture
View from the house
Picture
As is customary on such occasions, Marty fired up the BBQ and prepared a beachside feast for his guests. In the meantime, we explored parts of the island again, this time with Falko and his family. Even though we had seen these parts of Bruny Island before, it was a completely different experience. When we were there last, with Nancy and Charlie, the weather had been dull and gray, and a bit chilly for the beach. This time the sun shone gloriously between intermittent, puffy clouds. It was also a blast watching little Felix going nuts on the beach, chasing seagulls and inspecting penguin tracks in the sand.


Picture
Using fresh penguin tracks as a guide, Mar demonstrates proper penguin beach technique
Picture
Falko and Felix = Adorable
Picture
Chance sighting of the elusive beach sasquatch on Bruny Island
Picture
Leanne, Ben, Mar, Felix, Saskia, and Falko
A few days later we said goodbye to Falko and his family, and left Margate for a weeklong adventure around Tasmania with Matt who was flying all the way from Vancouver to see us. More on that story in the next post.

Afterwards, we returned to Margate for one final week of WWOOFing and one last attempt to sell our car in Tasmania. While hiking up Mt. Wellington with Matt, I received a call from a young woman who was interested in buying Alby. With high hopes that she remained interested a week later, I called her as soon as we arrived back at Leanne and Marty’s. By this time in our car selling experience, Mar and I had become significantly more realistic in our expectations. It was obvious now that we weren’t going to get all our money back, and that was fine; considering the 25,000 kms or so we had put on the car, it was sensible to expect a bit of a loss on the sale. The objective now was simple – if we could get more than half back, we’ve done our jobs and not let Devin and Emily down.


Picture
This is actually a mushroom, not a post-nuclear blast soup can
Luckily for us, the woman was still very interested, and wished to see it that day! After a bum rush car wash using a bucket and a teakettle, we set off for downtown Margate. There we met Jess and Dave, a young married couple with a little boy and a very new baby girl, who were looking for a car larger than their sedan with which to shuttle the kids. Mar and I tried our best to keep our excitement down. We’d been disappointed several times already by waffling buyers and shifty-eyed used car dealers, but we couldn’t help but feel like these two were different. Dave wasn’t a waffler, he knew what the car needed to have, he knew what malfunctions to look for, and his wife Jess remained pleased with the car’s features. We crossed our fingers until the next day when I received the call we’d been waiting so long to get. They wanted the car, and they were settled on the price we had discussed. As soon as I hung up, I couldn’t help but let out a resounding WOOOOO!! across the hills of Margate and helped myself to an invigorating victory dance. If there were a football, I would have spiked it right there on the garden bed I was weeding.


Picture
Dave takes Alby's reins as Ben takes his money - fair trade.
The next few days were a blur – getting paperwork together from the Dept of Transport, getting rid of camping gear and mailing stuff home that wouldn’t fit in our packs. The following Friday we met up with Dave and Jess at the local library to make the exchange. Dave lovingly bounced his son on his hip while Jess signed paperwork, and then we were done. Alby was ours no longer. He was going to a good home, and he was going to be great for this new family. Mar and I couldn’t help but feel a pang of nostalgia as Dave drove Alby away. That car had gotten us around Australia, around a continent! Aside from a few minor malfunctions and a rather harrowing tire explosion, Alby had done right by us, and in a really bizarre way, we loved him for it.


Picture
It also dawned on us as we walked into the sunset, with a sweet chunk of change stuffed in my pocket, that we were no longer wayward gypsies. We were dirty, good-for-nothing backpackers again. It felt good. Owning a car blows. Hard. We were in solid agreement that another car was not in our future for a good while. We had serious carbon footprint guilt after burning all those gallons of petrol, so riding a bike for the next decade or so sounded pretty desirable.


Picture
By this time Mar and I were pretty much done with Tasmania for the time being. We had spent almost three months there, had some great adventures and seen some beautiful country, but it was time for a change of scenery and climate. It had rained for a significant portion of our time in Tassie, and we craved sunshine and warmth. We also wanted to finally get some quality time in with Gareth before we left for the States in May, so we were Melbourne-bound once more. Before we left, however, we made one final impression in Margate – a long rock wall for Leanne and Marty’s permaculture garden. We hope the Great Wall of AmeriTasica will stand the test of time. Thanks again to Leanne, Marty, and their lovely daughter Clara for a wonderful conclusion to our Tassie residency!


Picture
Picture
Leanne, Clara, and Mar on our last day
 
 
Picture
On the hike to Crescent Beach
Picture
Intensely on the town on our one non-rainy day in Melbs
After Mitta Mitta and the departure of my mom back to the states, our mate Gareth and his lovely housemates Bec and Stacey graciously offered us the use of their flat as our Melbourne place of residence. We spent the week camped out on their floor, catching up on blogging and logistical to-do’s. Our guilt for staying indoors was lessened by the fact that it was pouring buckets outside 24/7, which didn’t make for good exploration weather. It was during this time that up north in Queensland, a storm system had settled in for the long haul and flooding was beginning to take hold of the entire northeast coast of the country. 


Picture
Escaping the mainland rain
We witnessed some horrifying images and video from the flood ravaged north – the most shocking of which was the flash inland tsunami that decimated a little town located in the hills of east Queensland. It was bizarre and truly sobering to realize how quickly nature can reclaim an area that seemed out of harms way. What was comforting was the level of response and solidarity the Australian people mustered nationwide to help those affected by the tragedy. To give you some idea of the scale of this disaster, imagine that the area from southeastern Virginia up to Maine was under water. The rains south of Queensland had just begun to flood areas in New South Wales, Victoria, and northern Tasmania when we took the Spirit of Tasmania ferry for the second time, now with car in tow, back to Tasmania for our next WWOOF/Help Exchange escapade. 


Picture
There was some good produce that came from those gardens...
The six weeks that followed flew by, but not in the way you might think. The place in the ether between boredom and insanity – that’s where our time was lost to while helping at (what we’ll call) The Village. It’s not that the workload was unreasonable, or that we weren’t well fed or housed, or even that we didn’t meet wonderful people; it all comes down to expectations. Expectations can be your worst enemy. 

Based on their Help Exchange profile, their website, and communications we had with one of the hosts back in April 2010, by all accounts The Village should have been a working eco-village; a utopian community for sustainable living and tourism, complete with green housing shares, edible streetscapes, and a working café. What we found upon arrival was simply a motel. Granted, this motel was situated on a beautiful plot of land overlooking the water with a few gardens around, but a motel nonetheless.

Picture
The resident lovable goat, Zeus.
Picture
Fresh Garlic Bulbs
Picture
Apparently the eco-village aspect of the property was very much still in phase one of planning and development. The bar and café, which we had hoped to gain a bit of experience working in, was closed until further notice as the chef had walked out in frustration just prior to our arrival. Looking back, we should have recognized the warning signs and turned tail. As much as we wanted to leave, however, it seemed wrong to go back on our promise of nearly a year to stay for 4 weeks. We decided then to stick it out. The location did provide some decent perks, including a pool and hot tub, a full-on commercial kitchen at our disposal, a glorious big screen TV for communal movie time and a good home base for excellent bushwalks on the Tasman Peninsula. With a contingent of friendly internationals working alongside us, we figured it could be A LOT worse. We could have been picking oranges, for instance.


Picture
Because the property was sans café and sans village, our day-to-day consisted mainly of housekeeping, laundry, and weeding. Every morning we would wake up, find out which rooms needed cleaning, and try our luck at room key roulette, hoping that Mr./Ms. Smelly, Hairy, Amateur Chef, or any combination thereof had not occupied our room the previous night. There are a lot of hairy, hairy people in this world, let me tell you, and I don’t understand how some people manage to leave body hair inside the refrigerator and microwave. Or how some people manage to completely saturate a room with bizarre odors after only one night of occupancy. Riddle me that. 

Occasionally we would be met with nicer gifts than BO and body hair: bottles of wine, stuffed animals, two-dollar coins, to name a few. Good or bad though, no matter what, there was usually at least one good story to tell after a day of housekeeping. 


Picture
The sunsets over the bay never disappointed
As the days and weeks wore on with a Groundhog’s Day cycle of housekeeping (and not much else) persisting, our frustration with the Village really came down to the lack of exchange. What separates programs like WWOOF and Help Exchange from modern serfdom and migrant slave trade is the cultural and intellectual exchange anticipated by both host and helper. Aside from the room and board, it really makes a stay worthwhile when a host can share their worldly experiences and knowledge with you, or at the very least, show their appreciation for your contribution to their business or property. 


Picture
We gradually came to realize that our host, let’s call him Steve, would offer no such exchange. A businessman through and through, he seemed most concerned with the money that was flowing in and out of his pocket, and would frequently complain about how costly it was to feed his free laborers their weekly generic brand rations. Steve would also passive aggressively grumble about how the 6-10 helpers weren’t doing enough work, while he himself had never been seen doing any work whatsoever. More often than not he would either be hiding out in his motel unit, making loud business calls, or getting a bit too sloshed on wine. All in all it was not an encouraging atmosphere to give your 100%. 


Picture
Also, we’ve determined after several documented events, that the man is most likely a sociopath. One afternoon as five or six of us were relaxing in the café for lunch, Steve yells across the room to our (very fit and lovely) Canadian friend in the kitchen: “LINZY, YOU’RE STARTING TO LOOK A BIT CHUBBY, MAYBE YOU SHOULD LAY OFF THE CARBS.” After Linzy’s shocked exclamations and the open-mouthed reactions of onlookers, he dismissed his comment as a gesture of “fatherly concern.” A few days later, the “father figure” suggested she pay for a massage offered by a fellow helper by showing Steve her boobs. Twice. Mental images of Steve’s soul patch continue to make me cringe. Finally, when Linzy departed after four weeks of dedicated work, he thanked her and said, “It’s been nice having you here Leslie.” 


Picture
The lovely Aline at her beachside birthday dinner!
Our sanity’s saving grace came in two forms: fellow helpers and the excursions away from the Village on our days off. The other internationals (and a few domestics) we met were wonderful, and offered us solidarity as well as memorable evenings of shenanigation. The “French” contingent in the early weeks, consisting of lovely people from Belgium, France, and Quebec, made sure that at least a few terrific crepe parties ensued. Antonin, from France, was especially eager to teach Ben the fine art of swearing in French. He even had Ben practice during a Skype call with Antonin's mother, who luckily found it hilarious. Group dinners, which occurred at least three times per week, were always a blast as helpers were the chefs and we had at least a few gourmets among us. Our friend from Taiwan, a restaurant manager back in his home country, whipped up some fantastic meals single-handedly, including a two amazing variations on roast pork. Steve's scrooginess would let up a bit, so the wine flowed fairly freely these evenings. Often the festivities continued back at our shared unit with music and international Children’s Pictionary (which is harder than it sounds when English is your second language).


Picture
A Julie Chaffarod photo: les Américains dance for crepes!
Picture
Crepe party! From left to right: Annette, Antonin, Ady, Aline, and Julie
Picture
Julie strikes a pose in front of Uber-Australia Woman
Picture
At the town Regatta afterparty! Jiwon, Julie (Br), Julie (Fr), Mar, and Linzy
Picture
A man of many talents: Ady the Chef, the Masseuse, and the Hairdresser!
Picture
Picture
The master chef in his element!
Picture
Antonin cleans out the trash can
Movie nights were always a popular activity as well as movie making, as one of our young French friends used his budding cinematic talent to create a training video for new helpers at the Village. Most of the time this was the bane of his existence, since the administration wanted to suppress his creativity and make the most mundane film ever not imagined, but he pressed on and we were happy to oblige his youthful spirit with some ACDC-themed filming sessions. 


Picture
Picture from Julie's camera. Her caption: 'antonin using my camera while I vomited'
Ventures outside the Village never disappointed, as we were able to explore parts of Tasmania we hadn’t seen before. The Village did give us the opportunity to partake in a three-hour boat tour of the Tasman Peninsula, which we gladly jumped on. Aside from the rough seas and a bit of seasickness for our friend Julie, the ride was beautiful and we were privileged to see a number of different animals - Australian and New Zealand fur seals, albatross, dolphins, and a lonely penguin - not to mention some incredible ocean cliffs and scenery. 


Picture
Rounding one of the peninsula points, this one covered in cormorants
Picture
Fur Seal!
Picture
Torpedo Seal strikes again!
Picture
Male seals quarreling (or possibly performing a duet) at 'The Bachelor Pad'
Picture
Ben stands near the cliff edge on the hike to Crescent Beach
The two of us also took some wonderful solo expeditions around the peninsula, to Crescent Beach and to Cape Hauy. Both hikes were beautiful coastal walks over ancient vegetated dunes, blowholes, and steep cliffs, and allowed us to experience some truly unique ecosystems of Tasmania. The Cape Hauy walk in particular allowed us to climb over some awesome rock formations we had seen previously from the boat tour - rock islands and pillars known as the Lanterns, the Totem Pole, and the Candlestick (the latter two are hugely popular for local and international climbers). 


Picture
Investigating a blowhole
Picture
Picture
Cape Hauy Hike
Picture
Hiking out towards the Lanterns
Picture
Picture
Overlooking the Lanterns and the Candlestick
Picture
Picture
On our final week, on our last day off, we finally took advantage of the local boathouse kayak rental and had a perfect day (re: wind and weather) for a long paddle around the nearby bays. We went along for several hours in one direction, but despite the relatively calm waters, ran into some enormous rolling swells. This day just so happened to be the day after the second Christchurch earthquake, so we were curious if we were experiencing the effects. We then changed course and went across the inlet to a bay on the opposite side known locally as White Beach. After resting on the sand for a few minutes to soak up the late afternoon sunlight we headed back in, but not before Ben tried his luck at fly-fishing out of the kayak. After what seemed like just a few casts, he caught what we later discovered was known as a “rock cod” – apparently the nice name for them, though we thought it was a rather beautiful fish. We totaled six hours of kayaking that day and felt fairly tenderized afterwards, but in the best of ways.


Picture
Picture
Picture
Picture
Picture
Amel and Ady
Once our required four weeks at the Village had passed, we were eager to move on, but had to spend another two weeks stationed there to set up our next WWOOF stay and to continue the arduous task of selling our car. Although the work and Steve certainly left something to be desired, we were happy we were able to meet some truly awesome people from all over the world. Many thanks to our fantastic Belgian, French, Taiwanese, Canadian, Korean, British, Italian and Australian friends for making our stay worthwhile! Safe travels and hope to see you again soon!


Picture
Ady, Julie, Aline, and Antonin (photo courtesy of Julie!)
 
 

>>READERSHIP ADVISORY: Please be aware that we will continue to update the posts between this date and last Christmas in the coming days and that they will appear below this post until we catch up to February. There are some great posts to come (including some awesome animal videos) so keep on the lookout!<<

Over the past months in Oz, we've discovered some dynamite tunes from new and local music artists, a delightful cornucopia that has become our adventure soundtrack in the Marsupial World. As much as stories and pictures can be emblematic of an experience, music has a way of filling in the cracks of your nostalgia and bridging the emotional gap for those who couldn't be there with you. That being said, we'd like to share a sampling of the music that has carried us through our travels in Australia since Perth, post-Devin and Emily adventures. 

For a few of the songs below, you might notice a familiar, slightly hilarious theme. When we got our first taste of the Australian indie music scene, it became abundantly clear that the 80s had returned with a vengeance, and it was wearing neon leggings and a cutoff sweatshirt. Gaudy synthesizers and octo-drums were back, only this time produced with a contemporary, playful aesthetic. It was as if the musicians of Australia handpicked what was creative and groundbreaking (and gloriously cheesy) about the 80s and left out the schlock and shoulder pads. OK, maybe a few shoulder pads got to come back, but only if sequins could come too. An Aussie music journalist recently wrote about this curious revival, asking the question as to whether the 80s had come back because of overlooked artistic merit, or because something needed a comeback and the 80s happened to be sitting alone in the corner, unloved. He felt it was probably the latter, but you can judge for yourself. We hope you enjoy.

We apologize to our readership with slow internet connections. This one's a doozie. 

o   Last Dinosaurs, "Time & Place" - Hailing from Brisbane, Last Dinosaurs have been getting serious attention since releasing their EP in 2009. This particular song has an Afro-Caribbean feel blended with indie rock in a Phoenix or Vampire Weekend sort of fashion. 
o   Art vs. Science, “Finally See Our Way” – A dance-punk band from Sydney; This song has a fantastic nod to Final Countdown (epic synth solo!), and is a great example of the 80’s music revival. The video is nerdaliciously awesome.
o   Boy & Bear, “Rabbit Song,” “Fall at Your Feet" - Great band from Sydney, they’ve got a Fleet Foxes vocal harmony style going for them.
o   Crystal Castles, “Not in Love (Feat. Robert Smith)” – How could this song not be awesome when it features Robert Smith from the Cure? The band itself is Canadian, and describes themselves as 'electronic noise pop'. Also another well conceived 80’s revival song. 

o   Tame Impala, “Solitude is Bliss” – An Aussie band from Perth that has gained a lot of popularity nationwide. Easy to hear the psychedelic Beatles influences on this group.
o   Mama Kin, "To My Table" - we saw Mama Kin open for The Cat Empire in Darwin and were thoroughly impressed with her soulful vocals and personal songwriting; she also performed at the "Our Generation" film premiere. She's from Fremantle in Western Australia.
o   Gypsy & the Cat, “Piper’s Song,” “Jona Vark”– an electro-pop duo from Melbourne, Aus; their song "Piper's Song" made us think of a contemporary Toto. 
o   Saltwater Band, "Bolu" - an amazing group from Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory, these guys feature an Aboriginal-style, Paul Simon, Graceland feel. We wanted to feature the song "Compass," but we couldn't find it anywhere as the group is really local and grassroots. 
o   The John Steel Singers, “Overpass” – from Brisbane. We're both becoming big fans of these guys - quirky, catchy, fun tunes, and this particular video is pretty frickin' entertaining.

o  Katalyst, "Day Into Night" feat. Stephanie McKay - a wonderful soul-filled reggae influenced track from Sydney producer Katalyst featuring the vocal talents of US-based Stephanie McKay. The two also do a great cover of Cold War Kid's song "Hang Me Out to Dry" on the Triple J radio station's program, "Like a Version" which you can find on YouTube.  
o   Oh Mercy, “Get You Back” – another band from the awesome town of Melbourne, influenced by Augie March and the Go-Betweens with a little bit of the Shins mixed in with their sound. This video is particularly rad. 
o  Papa Vs Pretty, "Wrecking Ball," - a rock band from Sydney and originally a solo-act for front man Thomas Rawle when he was only 15 years old. This track sounds influenced by a blend of Radiohead, Muse, and Queens of the Stone Age. 
o   Cloud Control, “There’s Nothing in the Water We Can’t Fight” – indie folk rock band from the Blue Mountains near Sydney; beautiful video, and you can really dig the use of tambourine. 
o   Grouplove, “Colours” – actually a band from the states (LA), their first EP really exploded onto the music scene here in Australia. This song has a bit of a Modest Mouse vibe and, as you'll see in this video, their motto is: "never trust a happy song." They're touring the states in March/April so check out this insanely talented bunch if you can!
o   Sparkadia, “Talking like I’m Falling Down Stairs” – alternative rock pop band formed in Sydney that first gained recognition in Australia in 2007 and now has extensive followers here as well as in Britain and Germany. Their latest single for 2011, "China," is also a great tune.  
o   Hungry Kids of Hungary, "Wristwatch" and "Set it Right" - A great four piece indie pop group from Brisbane whose songs are catchy and rhythmic with a nice balance of vocal harmonies. The first track is fun and energetic, with syncopated, stop-start hooks reminiscent of Dudley Corporation, and the second shows a bit of their versatility - that they're not just a Vampire Weekend rip-off band. It's also nice to see a band that doesn't take themselves too seriously. 
o   The Naked and Famous, “Punching in a Dream,” "Young Blood" – Kiwi band that has rocked our socks off. Love their indie-synth grooves and catchy vocal stylings. All of their songs on their latest album Passive Me, Aggressive You (including the two below) were written collaboratively by the entire group, and are all gems. Passion Pit fans will probably be rocked.
o   Angus & Julia Stone, “Big Jet Plane” – voted number one song of 2010 by Australian listeners; a great brother-sister duo from the Sydney area
o   POND, "Greens Pool" - A band comprised of three members of Tame Impala, from Perth. Both bands draw influence from psychedelic 60's pop, but POND has a slightly harder, quirkier edge. This track sounds a bit like Dr Dog and the Unicorns, with a li'l bit of space rock thrown in.
o   The Middle East, “Jesus Came to My Birthday Party” – musical collective based in Townsville, Queensland; their music comes together from a variety of influential genres including indie, folk, pop, and country and they often use tight vocal harmonies. 
o   The Wombats, “Tokyo (Vampires & Wolves)” – a super energetic, indie pop rock band from the UK (no idea why an Aussie band didn’t snatch up this name first)
o   Washington, “Sunday Best”- fronted by Australian lead singer Megan Washington, currently based in Melbourne. If you like Rilo Kiley or other chic-based indie pop, you'll dig this. Also check out "The Hardest Part."
o   Paper Plane Project, "The Road" - a production duo from Perth recorded this album on three continents - Mainly recorded in Brazil and NYC, and putting the final touches in Oz. If you're fond of British group Lemon Jelly, you'll really like this track's soft, funky, Chick Corea-influenced groove.
o   Adalita, “Hot Air” – from Geelong, Australia (near Melbourne) she was the founding member of the band Magic Dirt, and recently put out a solo album. We really enjoyed this mellow, stripped-back song of hers.
o   Cut Copy, "Take me Over" - My (mar) friend Norie originally introduced me to Cut Copy, a synth/electropop band from Melbourne, who released a new album just this month - Feb 2011 - called Zonoscope. This track is an excellent example of the Australian 80's revival and makes a significant nod to Men at Work, Talking Heads, and Genesis - basically like drinking an early 80s smoothie with your ears. Hot Chip fans will probably dig this song. 
o   Grinderman, “Palaces of Montezuma” – a rock band formed by front man Nick Cave, but put on hold while he was working with the Bad Seeds. This track is off the band's sophomore album, Grinderman 2, which was released last September 2010. 
o   Talib Kweli, “Gutter Rainbows” – this latest album by legendary Kweli is fantastic. Would we completely expose our whiteness by saying the beats are phat? Yes. The production for this track in particular is incredibly silky, mmmm.
o   Mark Ronson & the Business Intl, “Somebody to Love Me (Feat. Boy George & Andrew Wyatt)” – UK, Great great song with a wonderful rhythm and bass line. Who could’ve guessed that Boy George could still soulfully wail like that? The video, a tribute to Culture Club's heyday, is a bit distracting, but still voyeuristically interesting.
o   Florence + the Machine, “Dog Days are Over” – London based artists whose debut album Lungs was released in 2009. Soulful rock! This song originally debuted in 2008 but was re-released in 2010 and we couldn't help but love the weird awesome weird video. 
o   Adrian Lux, “Teenage Crime” – Swedish DJ/Dance music producer; the video for this track is a bit creepy, though we know some will love the cougarlicious action.
o   Yeasayer, "Ambling Alp," "Crazy" (Cover) - an experimental rock band from Brooklyn, NYC, we can't help but love their sound, which they describe as "Middle Eastern-psych-snap-gospel." You definitely pick up on an Ethiopian sound in the first track "Ambling Alp," and only a few days ago they did a great cover of Seal's original "Crazy" for Aussie radio station Triple J on their "Like a Version" program. 


o   Abbe May, “Mammalian Locomotion” – from Western Australia - dirty guitar rockouts blended with muted, Garbage-esque vocals. This guitar solo may actually melt your face.
o   Drapht, “Rapunzel” – a very catchy tune from this Perth-based band, which took us a while to get into simply because Aussie hip-hop makes us giggle. Not to say that they can’t produce great hip-hop music over here, but white hip-hop artists generally are pretty hilarious, especially with ridiculous accents. 
o   Gorillaz, “Doncamatic” – just a good song. This video is absurd - an uberhipster, Jules Verne steampunk fantasy. If you really hate hipsters we'd advise turning off your monitor or averting your eyes while the song plays, otherwise you might have a hate seizure. 
o   Illy, “It Can Wait (Feat. Owl Eyes)” – another catchy gigilicious Aussie hip-hop song from Melbourne rapper Illy and Melbourne indie artist Owl Eyes. Good luck getting the refrain out of your head after hearing this one.
o   Ou Est Le Swimming Pool, “Dance the Way I Feel” – an English synthpop group; sadly, the lead singer took his own life last year. This video embodies what hipsters wish their 80s parties looked like.
o   Cee Lo Green, “Fuck You!” – Obviously not an Aussie artist and probably already overplayed in the States, but we can’t help but love this freaking awesome song. This was the first song we heard on Aussie radio while driving around Perth that made us aware that Aussie radio stations don’t censor or otherwise corrupt songs with bleeps, blanks, or substituted words. Instead, the station puts out a “Strong Language Alert” warning prior to playing the song, suggesting that if you are offended by strong language, to simply tune out. Brilliant! We also love his song "Bright Lights Bigger City."

 
 
Picture
The Snowy Mountains
On New Years Day we sadly parted ways with Charlie, who had to cut his vacation a bit short for work. After saying our goodbyes at Melbourne International, the three of us headed northeast for a week of adventuring in the Snowy River mountain area of the Victorian Alps (yes, Australia also has Alps!). After watching the epic Australian movie classic The Man from Snowy River for many years, and being seasoned cowgirls, us women folk were quite excited to enter the brumby high country. 
An accidental cow video: for my Uncle Bob, and anyone else who enjoys accidental cows. 
Picture
Nancy with Wilbur (Chris in Background)
We drove northeast from Melbourne for hours and hours, up into green rolling hills and valleys, and finally arrived in the little town of Mitta Mitta. We made base camp at Bharatralia Jungle Camp, an Indian-style bush and wildlife camp run by a lovely Aussie couple, Chris and Nancy Otto. Chris had spent some of his early life in India, so he had modeled this camp to resemble the jungle camps he remembered from his childhood. The ambiance of the whole place certainly felt a bit exotic, particularly with the menagerie of Australian and Indian animals roaming around. Their extended family included herds of blackbuck antelope, spotted deer, cheetle deer, ostriches, emus, a kangaroo, peacocks (all of which were named Raj), an incredibly talkative white cockatoo named Bill, two dogs, and the ever adorable pet wombat, Wilbur. Wilbur ended up being one of the major highlights of the trip and aside from petting him, which was super cool, we mainly enjoyed watching him run – a wombat run/trot is one of the funniest and unexpected sights in the animal world. 


Here you have it, one whole adorable minute of wombat:
Picture
Bill and Chris
Picture
Tame spotted deer
Picture
Our tent, named Sambar
Chris welcomed us upon our arrival and showed us to our accommodation: an enormous safari-style tent, complete with carpeting, double and single beds, end tables, and reading lamps. It felt very Lawrence of Arabia. The tent and our dining space, an open-air, garden patio area, really sealed in the “we're far from home” feeling. Throughout the week, whenever we had down time, the camp worked its magic and lulled us into a deep state of relaxation. Shockingly enough, and much to everyone's delight, it even had an affect on my mother! Often it would take effect as we watched the sun set behind the hills, sipping tea and observing the brightly colored parrots feeding nearby. It was a pretty euphoric experience, and it often felt like time just seemed to pause during those moments. 


Picture
Our dining area
Picture
NEWSFLASH: Nancy Cowdin is actually relaxing. And amazingly no sedatives were necessary.
Picture
Woman in the bush - climbing the Mt. Welcome track with spider stick in hand.
During our active and energized daytime mode, however, our time was mostly spent apart pursuing very different ends. Ben made a serious personal resolution to conquer the trout of the local rivers, while my mom and I explored the walking and hiking tracks in the surrounding area. One such track was up Mt. Welcome, the large hill right behind the camp. The beginning of the trail was clear enough to follow, but as we climbed higher up the ridge, the path began to disappear into the bracken. It quickly became evident that no one had hiked this particular trail in at least a few years, and our casual hike up the mountain soon turned into a serious bushwhack through thick brush, fallen trees, and thousands of spider webs. 


Picture
Awesome and bizarre flower along the trail.
Picture
The ridge also never seemed to end – false top after false top straight up the spine of the ridge, with no summit (or trail signs) in sight. After hours of trudging, wondering whether it would be best to carry on or return the way we came, we found the top, but there was no indication that we had made it other than an old 4WD road. Nonetheless we were overjoyed to have reached a turning point, and we traveled the long way back down the steep and aptly named Mt. Disappointment track until we arrived exhausted and a bit bloodied back at Jungle Camp. Fortunately, the rest of our excursions were much less scratchy.  


Picture
Picture
Picture
Meanwhile down on the river, Ben was experiencing some serious fishing frustrations. Try as he might, the plentiful trout of the famous Mitta Mitta River wanted nothing to do with him. Apparently they were literally leaping out of the water all around him as he feverishly tried fly after fly and all manner of tricks and techniques. It was easy to see that the fish were getting to Ben; each fishing trip he returned grumpier than before. In the end he did manage to catch a fish – not a trout, but still a fish! We never found out what kind due to his incoherent grumbling.


Picture
One particularly lovely day, the three of us joined forces to climb Australia's highest peak: Mt. Kosciuszko. As the kookaburra flies, Mt. Kosciuszko was fairly close to Mitta Mitta, but driving there was another matter. A long but beautiful winding drive took us across the New South Wales border and high into the Snowy Mountains. At the base of Kosciuszko was a well-established ski resort, and in the summertime the ski lift was used to shuttle hikers up to the alpine plateau where many of the bushwalking trails begin. We couldn't help but feel like we were cheating, but due to time constraints we hopped on nonetheless and casually ascended the ridge, getting spectacular views of the mountain range and the valley below. 


Picture
Once at the top of the plateau, the summit was only about 3.5 km and the chairlift had gained much of the vertical distance for us. Considering this peak was the highest point on the continent, the hike up was surprisingly mellow and really ended up being more of a pleasant stroll. The alpine landscape surrounding us was uncannily similar to parts of the Colorado Rocky alpine areas, so we felt both nostalgic and immediately at home. It was exceptionally picturesque and we could feel the exhilarating and quite literally breathtaking effects of the high altitude on the inclines.  A large snowfield near the mountaintop brought more familiarity, and we stopped for a nice, long and happy frolic in the cold, slushy, summer-in-January snow. 


Picture
Picture
Ben rejoices in the summer snow.
Picture
Woman from Snowy River. Worth many sheep.
We reached the summit fairly quickly and the views were stunning; we truly felt on top of the world. It was already late afternoon, but we took our sweet time, soaking in the mountain glory and fresh air. We eventually started to wander back down the trail, pausing to examine the wildflowers, lichen, and rocks along the way, while the sunlight became increasingly more rich and golden. By this time the casual day visitors had gone, so it felt like we had the mountaintop all to ourselves. We intentionally missed the last chairlift down, wanting to hike the full trail to the base – a steep, steep nature trail – to get in some major distance and a little more mountain time. It was punishment for our knees but worth it for the thrill of the hike. We made it back to the car just before sunset, having hiked a good 16+ km that day. Back at camp, we were exhausted, but completely satisfied.   


Picture
Picture
Picture
The altitude has cost her her legs, but given her the power of levitation...
Picture
Picture
Picture
Picture
YUM
On our final night at Bharatralia Jungle Camp, we opted in for a spectacular three-course Indian dinner, homemade by Nancy and Chris. We did pretty well for ourselves when self-catering most nights, but this meal was truly a treat - samosas, crunchy pekoras, spicy chutney, shrimp curry, all made from scratch! Our taste buds finally accomplished what our eyes had started: we were transported to India for an evening. 


Picture
Picture
The morning of our departure, Ben got an early start to take one last crack at the Mitta Mitta River, while my mom and I took a full-on animal tour. When we walked up to their house to begin, Bill and Wilbur waddled around the corner to say hello. After the four of us exchanged pleasantries and a certain wombat nibbled a few feet affectionately, Nancy appeared and took over the walkabout. My mom and I would've been thrilled to just play with Wilbur all day (it was delightfully hilarious to watch him tag along and snuggle with Nancy's feet), so we were even more excited when we were able to feed and pet many of the other beautiful animals. A few of the blackbuck antelope followed us around closely and ate right out of our hands, and my mom had an intimate one-on-one feeding with the old gray kangaroo. The ostriches were another fascination, though we only came close to the female. At 6'5” with velociraptor talons like you wouldn't believe and gleaming red shins for the mating season, the male ostrich was intimidating to say the least, and we gladly steered clear of his reach. 


Picture
What a bizarre assortment of animals.
Picture
Picture
Here's a short clip of Bill the cockatoo performing one of his tricks - and screaming in the wraith-like way that the white cockatoos here do:
Picture
Ben returned from the river fishless, and grumpy as ever, but overall he appreciated the many hours spent fishing in the gorgeous Mitta Mitta River valley. We packed up the car, said our goodbyes to Chris and Nancy (and Wilbur) and began the long drive back to the real world.


 
 
Picture
Festive chaos - Federation Square, New Years Eve
Picture
Melbourne made all its public transport free for NYE - Charlie and NC on the Tram
Due to a demanding work schedule back in DC, Charlie needed to leave Oz a week earlier than Nancy. Since Charlie's last night also happened to be New Years Eve, we decided the best way to spend it would be in the middle of the madness in Melbourne. After experiencing predominantly blustery, chilly weather both along the Great Ocean Road as well as in Tassie, it came as a big shock when we walked off the airplane onto the tarmac at Melbourne International and slammed into a wall of sweltering 40+ C heat. Summer had officially arrived in Victoria, and it wanted its presence known. We joked that now Charlie and Nancy could actually experience the legendary heat of Oz, instead of the New England style weather that seemed to never want to leave. It was just too bad that Charlie didn't have more time to have a true Aussie beach day.


Picture
The Fitzroy!
Picture
Little Creatures NYE Beach Party!
After checking into a local caravan park, we did our best not to pass out from heat exhaustion as we got ready for the evening in the city. Our stifling cabin, sans-air conditioning, was basically an oversized EZ Bake oven with beds. As the sun dropped to the horizon and covered the city in pink and gold, we made our way to the Little Creatures Brewery restaurant, located in the heart of the Fitzroy, a fantastic, semi-grungy artfoodculture district that has become one of our favorite parts of Melbourne. It felt good to be going back to Little Creatures, as it was one of the first places Gareth took us when we arrived in Australia 8 months prior. Taking Nancy and Charlie there made it feel like Mar and I were officially finishing the circle we had drawn around the continent.


Picture
Pshhh, who can't do that?
We soon discovered that Little Creatures had been a particularly sweet choice for New Years. For its NYE festivities, the restaurant was hosting an indoor beach party, complete with beach umbrellas and poolside lounge chairs (and most importantly no cover charge!). The employees were dressed in wonderfully ridiculous costumes, most of which involved either spandex or hideous wigs, including one fabulously gross mullet wig. Between some delicious frites and pints of liquid heaven, we were thinking our choice of NYE venues was pretty great, but our satisfaction soon turned to delight when the entertainment took to the center of the room. Little Creatures had hired two burly circus performers to dazzle the crowd intermittently throughout the night. They did the usual, amazing, two man acrobatic tricks, but what really impressed us was when one of them pulled off an armless headstand, perched atop a wine bottle. I don't care who you are, that shit's awesome.


Picture
Ok, a handless manstand is sort of impressive...
Picture
As midnight loomed closer, we left Little Creatures and wandered with the masses down to Federation Square for the fireworks. We soon found ourselves in a sea of people, though it wasn't oppressively dense so we were able to stake a claim on some open street real estate in the center of it all. It was in the middle of this great, multicultural gathering of people in this international city that all of us realized we had never been a part of such grand New Years Eve celebrations before. Those big televised parties that we had always seen on TV had become a reality, only better, because as we were celebrating New Years in the summertime, everyone was comfortably partying in the warm night air (rather than getting frostbite). There was the obligatory drunkard dragged away by police, and the not so expected Indian, bhangra drum dance party that both helped to set the mood for the night. 


Picture
By all accounts Ben should be hammered in this photo, but alas... sober as a mormon.
Picture
Picture
Live music was everywhere and we became hypnotized by all the sights and sounds, until the abrupt start of the midnight countdown took us by surprise. At 12AM, we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by a 360-degree fireworks show. All the major buildings, and a station on the river, were shooting off beautiful fireworks for what seemed like half an hour. It was an uplifting experience, an almost cliché New Years event, with all manner of folk wishing each other a Happy New Year, hugging, kissing, and singing and dancing in the street. The evening was a magical end to 2010 and, hopefully, a good omen for 2011. 


Picture
Picture
Picture
 

Tasmania

31/12/2010

0 Comments

 
Picture
Cradle Mt - Lake St Clair National Park
There are some beautiful places in this world that seem so picturesque as to seem surreal, as if you were looking at a postcard or National Geographic magazine. Then there are those beautiful places that immediately feel like home. Tasmania is this latter type of place – a warm blanket of undulating hills, mountains, greenery, poppy fields, rivers, streams, and colorful skies.  


Picture
At 7:30 AM on December 22nd, the four of us hopped the Spirit of Tasmania ferry from Melbourne to Devonport. We’d been told by some local friends that although the ferry would take us nine hours (as opposed to the hour flight direct to Hobart) that it was worth the experience. It certainly was an experience, nine long hours riddled with nausea and a mediocre Sandra Bullock film, but an experience nonetheless – sorry again Charlie (who thought I’d told him it was a six hour boat ride). 


Picture
The northern Tasmanian coastline
A wave of relief and excitement swept over us as we arrived in Devonport and shook off our inadequate sea legs. We picked up our little rental car and gave Charlie a few minutes to adjust to driving on the wrong side of the car on the wrong side of the road – “Left to Live, Left to Live!” – and headed south toward our little cabin along the St. Paul River. The drive took us a couple hours, but during that time the scenery could not have been more picturesque. 


Picture
The best we could do from a moving car
Picture
Moon Rise in Avoca, Tasmania
If Western Australia has the best sunsets, Tasmania certainly has the best scenery at sunset. Every night since we’ve been in Tassie, save for rainy nights, the sky turns soft, seductive pastel colors of peach and lavender, and the orange light warms the lush greens and golds of the hills and fields. As mushy as it all sounds, I’d be lying if I said it was anything but an eyeful of happiness and a full-body sensation of complete content. As we drove down the final road to our cabin – which, according to the owner, was riddled with giant, four-foot wombats – a full moon rose, bright and monstrous, from behind a hill. We couldn’t have asked for a more brilliant or magical introduction to the island of Tasmania. 


Picture
View from the back porch of our cabin - the St. Paul River
The cabin we had rented for the Xmas holiday was located in an open valley right alongside the St. Paul River, a hot spot for local trout fishing much to Ben’s delight. We were fairly isolated, which made for a relaxed, back-to-nature atmosphere, but it also meant some long car rides to other locations. We used the cabin as a base camp for daily national park excursions around the island, and settled in at night with some good ol’ fashioned home cooked meals with local wine and food.


Picture
Attempting to drink out of Wine Glass Bay - more like a wino trying to suck spilled wine off the floor
Our first full day, we ventured out to Freycinet National Park on the island’s east coast. Most people visit this area to see the famous Wine Glass Bay – they hike about 1.2 km up to the lookout, take the classic postcard picture, and head home. As seasoned explorers, we were itching for a bit more than that and decided to make the half-day trek through Wine Glass and around Hazards Bay. Although tourist-riddled, Wine Glass was quite stunning from both up above and from the beach below. While on the beach, Charlie took the opportunity to show off his machismo and take on the near-Antarctic waters of the Tasman Sea. We were all very impressed by his manliness. 


Picture
Picture
Picture
Picture
Back on the sand we became good mates with a little female wallaby who had been hand-fed one too many times. Ben, by far, had the most intimate encounter while crouching low to get a good shot, feeling the brush of wallaby whiskers on his cheek. Bold move wallaby, bold move. Perhaps Ben’s own whiskers had her mesmerized or maybe confused… I should probably be disturbed that his hairiness has begun to enchant the local marsupial population.


Picture
Picture
Picture
Continuing our circuit we found ourselves on Hazards Beach, blissfully alone and away from the tourist frenzy. The beach was covered in oyster shells, proof of the natural abundance of this famous Tasmanian delicacy. Being less sheltered than Wine Glass, the surf here was larger, giving the bay a much more rugged feel. We paused here to take what will inevitably be next year’s Xmas card.


Picture
Picture
Picture
Picture
Picture
On Christmas Eve Day we visited the town of Launceston and its biggest attraction, Cataract Gorge – a long gorge cut by a river, bordered with walking paths and spanned by several bridges. It ended up being a lovely little walk along the water, and we enjoyed watching the rock climbers along the cliffs, wishing we had brought our shoes along for the day. Where the gorge is widest, at the old dam, the town established a park and a couple tea gardens, complete with peacocks ready to devour any unattended food. We sat down for a spot of Devonshire Tea, my mom’s new favorite afternoon ritual, and then hiked upstream for quite a ways, spotting lizards (including a large blue tongue) and wildflowers.


Picture
Cataract Gorge
Picture
Picture
In addition to hiking/bushwalking, Tasmania is celebrated for its food and wine culture, and its laid-back residents take pride in eating and drinking fresh, gourmet, local products such as oysters, mussels, salmon, mushrooms, cheese, chocolate, beer and wine. We couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate a down under Xmas in a little mountain valley cabin than a Christmas Eve feast prepared with local food. We did a bit of Tamar Valley wine tasting to find a good drink for the evening and then roamed the Launceston seafood and produce shops for dinner ingredients. We ended up with a colorful spread of Tasmania’s offerings: Tasmanian salmon (with orange glaze and grilled by Ben), blue mussels (simmered in a garlic-wine cream sauce), sweet and white potatoes (caramelized with onion and raisins), buttery crescent rolls (homemade by mum), and a Tasmanian Chardonnay (grown and crafted locally by a nice old Aussie dude we met). It’s hard not to start drooling thinking back on this incredible evening. 


Picture
Picture
Having a warmish, summertime Christmas was a bit bizarre, but to be honest it was the first Christmas where I actually felt refreshed and unburdened. It was the first time I’ve celebrated any holiday (especially Xmas) where it felt we were celebrating the right things. No tree, no decorations, no presents, no stores or shopping malls; just the four of us in a little cabin in the middle of the wilderness in Tasmania, eating good food with good company, toasting the friends and family members we wished were there to celebrate with us. And that, Charlie Brown, is what the holiday season is all about. 


Picture
On Xmas Day, we continued the celebration in the best way we know how: by climbing a mountain. Cradle Mountain, though not the highest in Tasmania, is the state’s most iconic peak and is situated at the northern end of the Overland Track, a 5-6 day backpacking trek through Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park. As soon as we got out on the trail in the chilly, alpine air, we found ourselves in the heart of Tasmania and felt energized, despite the blanket of grey overhead.

Picture
Picture
Picture
Picture
Picture
The trail up to Cradle ambled along through fields of spinifex and wildflowers, pockets of temperate rainforest, and past ancient glacial lakes. Around each bend and over each crest, the scenery just seemed to get more spectacular. When we reached the top of the ridge just before the final climb to the summit, Cradle Mountain in all its craggy glory came into view. As we stood there soaking in what appeared to be a volcano with teeth, we’ll admit that we all had a few pangs of doubt regarding the task before us. Those thoughts quickly vanished however when we noticed the wild-haired dude in flannel, cut-offs, and flip-flops (yes, flip-flops) steadily gaining on us. [His wife informed us that he had also climbed in Patagonia and the Himalaya’s in only flip-flops. Holy. Hell.] As we made for the final ascent, the sun emerged as if to cue Eye of the Tiger, and we began the long, steep boulder climb to the top.


Picture
Picture
Behold: Flip-flop Dude
Picture
Picture
Picture
After an exhilarating near-vertical scramble, we reached the summit! The view was extraordinary; it almost felt like you could see all of Tasmania in 360 degrees. Flip-flop bushman made it too, though he seemed a bit peeved that every hiker had to make exclamations about his feet. Come on man, you’re wearing plastic flip-flops to climb a freaking mountain – admit that it’s totally awesome, but completely insane. We salute you.


Picture
Picture
Ben and Mar on the point - courtesy of Charlie
Picture
Why hellooo....getting the skink eye
Picture
Nancy shows us her Doctor J impression
Picture
Backpacker hut for the Overland Track
After what seemed like the longest and most arthritic descent ever past the beautiful Dove Lake, we left the park, but not before having two more Aussie animal firsts: we spotted our first wombats, which were adorably lumbering through the brush in search of their evening breakfast, and our first echidna, who had barely waddled across the road when we zoomed past. Thankful we hadn’t run this spiny little fellow over, we stopped and wandered over for a close encounter. He was a bit skittish, but didn’t seem to mind that we were curiously sneaking closer. The only thing that really startled him was Ben’s camera shutter, which makes a horribly loud “cha-chink” noise, and made the poor guy spasm into a partial ball of fur and spines. Other than that though, he seemed to be having a lovely stroll through the grass, and we were happy to share it with him. 


Picture
Drinking from the pure, mountain spring water of Tassie!
Picture
Falling into the pure, mountain spring water of Tassie.
Picture
Cradle Mountain's Christmas Reindeer
Picture
Our first echidna friend
Picture
South Coast Track, Southwest National Park
For the second half of our Tasmania holiday adventure, we moved our base camp to a little town called Geeveston, just southwest of Hobart. From here we ventured into Southwest National Park, which, paired with Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park, comprises the entire southwest quarter of the island. To see much of this wilderness area you often have to be dropped off by plane or helicopter, but lucky for us we were close to the eastern end of a major backpacking route and decided to take a day hike along the South Coast Track. 


Picture
Picture
Most of the hike was fairly flat, alternating between large open fields of grasses and tight, Fangorn-esque bits of forest. Overall the hike wasn’t too exciting, that is until the trees parted and we suddenly found ourselves on what seemed like the edge of the world. After several hours of hiking, we had finally arrived at the coastal section of the South Coast Track, which put us out onto volcanic-looking black cliffs and a stone beach with rough surf. The wind was howling, and brought with it the sharp Antarctic air. Realizing that we were merely a puddle-jump away from the coldest place on earth, not to mention the sultry voice of Morgan Freeman, was exhilarating.


Picture
Picture
Picture
More monotreme points - a platypus we spotted in Geeveston!
Picture
Picture
Tessellated Pavement - the pans and loaves of geology
The following day we went exploring on the Tasman Peninsula, Tasmania’s premiere convict tourism region! Most of you are probably aware of Australia’s penal past (ha), and maybe also of Tasmania’s specific use as an island prison colony. What you may not know is that the Tasman Peninsula was the most notorious penal settlement, a severely isolated place of banishment, with Port Arthur as the flagship prison. Today, the Australian tourism industry offers the Tasman Peninsula up as a place for “family friendly” convict tours. As wonderfully depressing as the convict history is, we actually bypassed most of it in order to focus on the much more uplifting natural history of the area. We visited the beautiful Pirate’s Bay, Tessellated Pavement, Devil’s Kitchen, Tasman Arch, and Remarkable Cave, soaking in the amazing limestone cliffs and ocean wildlife that so define Tasmania’s coastline.


Picture
Sea anemone in the tidal pools!
Picture
Inverted starfish stomach - with lunch, yum.
Picture
Picture
I only have tube feet for you...
Picture
Peninsula coastline - the two lumps way out in the distance are called 'The Lanterns' and the little speck in the water is a kayak for some scale
Picture
Sweet outcrop near Remarkable Cave
Picture
Next to Remarkable Cave
Picture
Tasting some sweet chili Tasmanian mussels
Our time in Tasmania just so happened to overlap with the state’s annual Taste of Tasmania, a celebration/exhibition of the local food and wine (and beer) that make Hobart a foodie destination. The event itself was free admission, but for $7 you were given a festival wine glass and unlimited access to the myriad Tasmanian wineries offering tastings. We may have hit the booze a little fast, mainly because it was free and we all were so indecisive about what food to try. But overall the evening was a blast - we sampled some delicious dishes and drank ourselves French on superb wine and beer. Huzzah!


Picture
NC drinking a beer?! And with such stylish elegance too.
Picture
Mustaches make everything more enjoyable.
Picture
Regret making that face, but loved the classy boozing with mum.
Picture
The Sydney to Hobart and Melbourne to Hobart yacht races just so happened to be finishing that day
Picture
Some Melbourne to Hobart victors!
Picture
For our final full day together in Tassie, we took the ferry to Bruny Island – a skinny 45km strip of land separated by the D’Entrecasteaux Channel and Storm Bay. The island only has about 600 residents, but many people visit daily to camp in the national parks, spot penguins and the illusive albino wallabies, and to sample locally produced food and drink. We did visit the Bruny Island Cheese Co., tasting some wonderfully fresh cheese and brick oven-baked sourdough bread, but most of our time was spent hiking on the Fluted Cape track. The trail took us on a steep, cliffside hike to a magnificent lookout across Adventure Bay. Our wildlife karma continued to rock, as we saw a large tiger snake (the most venomous in Tasmania) and another echidna, with whom we had a long and heartfelt rendezvous. My mom captured a bunch of quality video footage on her iPhone, so we took the liberty of making a tribute montage of our little friend. We can definitively say that we heart monotremes.


Picture
peek-a-boo
Picture
what what, echidna butt?
Picture
Picture
Picture
More sea stars! And potentially several octopi attached to Ben's head.
Picture
Picture
On top of Fluted Cape
Picture
Picture
Picture
Lookout above the Penguin Rookery and the 'neck' connecting North Bruny to South Bruny
 
 
Picture
Our serious holiday adventures began with a trip down the Great Ocean Road, a long drive along Victoria’s stunning southern coastline through quaint surfing towns and national parks. Inspired by the coastal highways of California, the road was a kind of Australian WPA project to provide employment for returning soldiers from the First World War. Our first day mainly featured driving and the weather was a bit rainy, but our first views of the Southern Ocean and rounded seaside cliffs were glorious nonetheless. We spent our first night in Apollo Bay, a small surfing and fishing town right next to the water. To celebrate the official beginning of our holiday road trip, we had some wine that we had bought in the Barossa Valley and ate at the local fish n’ chips shop for dinner. This was the first opportunity we had to introduce Nancy the Ketchup Addict to sweet chili sauce, an Australian phenomenon. This fateful introduction resulted in her purchasing roughly 2 liters of sweet chili sauce to bring back home (despite our insistence that you can easily get this sauce in the states). 


Picture
Our first koala!! He didn't seem to share our enthusiasm.
On our second day along the Great Ocean Road, we had our first taste of Nancy and Charlie’s “animal magnetism,” which would become increasingly evident as the days progressed. Seven months, six states, and over 22,000 kilometers had passed since the two of us had arrived in Australia and neither of us had even caught a glimpse of a damn koala bear. We were beginning to think they were a myth, a ploy of the Australian tourism industry, which probably planted animatronic koalas in zoos and in the wild for episodes of Jack Hannah’s Animal Adventures. As we drove through patches of gum trees toward Cape Otway, we noticed a few cars pulled over and some tourists looking up into the trees – a good indication of wildlife about. We quickly spotted a fat ball of grey fur, dozing lazily and a bit precariously on a limb directly over the roadway. YES! We couldn’t have been more excited, a real living, breathing, squishy KOALA in the WILD! 


Picture
As we were giddily taking photos of this unconscious little dude, we realized that we were surrounded. We paced up and down the road looking through all the eucalypts around us, spotting little furry snoozeballs everywhere! Within a few hundred meters of where we stood, we took note of at least 30 koala bears in the trees. In the words of the late Mitch Hedberg, “Cutest infestation EVER.” This place was the koala Mecca we waited seven months to stumble upon. I say this not only because of the sheer number of koalas, but also because of how closely we were able to observe them. We walked down the road towards the cape and off to our left we found ourselves five feet away from a momma koala and her baby! They were positioned on a tree branch just above our heads and the two of them seemed quite unaffected by our presence, therefore giving us plenty of time to take close to 500 photos of slightly different poses...we get a little trigger happy with the ol' camera sometimes.  


Picture
Sometimes koalas just need to break out into song...*Tonight, tonight, there's only you tonight*
Picture
Picture
Koalas: the stoner slackers of the marsupial world
For those who don’t already know, koalas really don’t do anything but sleep, mainly because they are constantly dehydrated and the oil in the eucalyptus they eat drugs them out pretty hard. So, when the sun came out from behind the clouds and woke a few of them up, they began to move around a bit and you would have thought the sky had begun to rain kittens. It’s too funny how humans react to furry things doing the most mundane crap, but we’ll be honest, we were right there with everyone:

“Oh my god look, look, it’s scratching itself”

“WOW, that’s soooo awesome, he’s yawning”

“Aw cuuuute, look at that one, it’s passing out again”

People are ridiculous, but we had a blast. 


Picture
NC and Chenness with the Cape Otway lighthouse in view
Picture
Walking along Cape Otway
Picture
Nancy and Ben's Hair soak in the ocean view
Picture
Why I do declare Mr. Beauregard, are those gum tree leaves for me?
Our luck seemed to improve even more as the day progressed. That afternoon, as we were driving back from a lovely walk along the vegetated dunes of Cape Otway, we spotted another koala, awake and munching away, this time right at eye-level next to the path. This little dude proved to be quite content with us right next to him, as long as he still had a branch of eucalyptus to devour. NC actually got to feed him when he ran out of leaves, handing him a huge branch of eucalyptus, which he eagerly snatched. Koala-tastic!

Picture
Just in case you were wondering what koala balls look like
Picture
Close up of koala talons - this is why you don't wake up koala bears
Picture
Post koala-feeding delight for NC and bear!
Picture
On several occasions we took a few hikes through Otway National Park and some beautiful rainforests. Like many places in Australia, these walks felt like a step back in time and you half-expected little dinosaurs and minivan-sized insects to burst through the ferns and giant gum trees. The epiphytes and mosses alone were a spectacle, with so many varieties, all of which looked so soft and inviting, you just had to stop and pet each tree affectionately. The waterfalls, as you might expect, were all lovely and every once in a while we came across some rusted, moss-covered logging equipment from the 1800’s, which was a bit eerie. 


Picture
Looks like Snuffleupagus has extended his leg to be caressed.
Picture
Picture
Picture
An old steam boiler from the logging days
Picture
Picture
Twelve Apostles in stormy seas
We continued westward on the Great Ocean Road along what is known as the “Shipwreck Coast.” Stretching for about 130kms, this bit of coastline with its striking limestone cliffs and rock formations, thick fogs, and rough seas has claimed over 700 vessels since the 19th Century. The limestone pillars and platforms provide for some incredible scenery, one of the most popular sites being the Twelve Apostles, where twelve enormous pillars of rock stand free along the coast. On our way to Port Campbell, we stopped at the Twelve Apostles just after sunset and watched as fairy penguins waddled quickly in a large cluster out of the ocean and into the brush for the night. We were pretty high up on the top of the ridge and the light was very faint, but the scuttling tuxedo-clad dots were adorable nonetheless. 


Picture
We returned the next morning to view everything in the daylight and, while it was blustery and cold and packed with tourists, the sunlit coast was gorgeous. The limestone columns stood like sentinels in the churning shallows.  After Twelve Apostles we hit up a few more sites including Lord Ard Gorge (site of a famous shipwreck), London Bridge (which, ironically, fell down recently), and Bay of Martyrs. The Lord Ard Gorge site in particular had a bunch of nooks and crannies to explore including an awesome cave. 


Picture
Picture
Ben's now-sentient hair is attempting to suck out my brains. Brrraaaiiiinnnsss....
Picture
Lord Ard Gorge site
Picture
The cave at Lord Ard Gorge!
Picture
My mom's noise for this jump was an adorable little 'rawr' - imagine young Simba from the Lion King
Picture
Picture
The painful and potentially deadly bluebottle jellyfish (a small Portuguese man-o-war)
Picture
Picture
Cheese, Tea, Scones, and Mother-Daughter Bonding
Hitting the end of the Great Ocean Road, we turned back towards Melbourne, but made a small detour at Timboon Farmhouse Cheesery for some free cheese tasting and Devonshire Tea. They make a “non-traditional” feta cheese here that we particularly enjoyed, soaked in oil with herbs and spices. It’s non-traditional because they make it with cow’s milk instead of goat/sheep (and it did taste a bit more like mozzarella than feta), but it was delicious. Many places in Australia advertise Devonshire Tea, which is usually a cup of tea served with scones (more like American biscuits), cream, and jam. After a day of wind-battered sightseeing, a relaxed session of Devonshire Tea in an English-style garden was just the ticket.

Picture
A beautiful little male fairy wren joined us for tea
Picture
 
 
It’s official: returning to Melbourne on December 14th marked our complete circumnavigation of mainland Australia! By plane, train, and automobile we traveled over 22,000 kilometers and found ourselves back where we had first entered the country, bewildered and bleary-eyed like newborn kittens, on May 21st. It was great to be back, and we were looking forward to spending some quality time exploring Melbourne, Victoria, and Tasmania in our remaining months down under.  
Picture
No longer bewildered but maybe still a bit bleary-eyed. And much hairier.
Picture
Looking down Flinders Street towards Federation Square and the Flinders St Train Station
Picture
Roughly eight months had passed since I had seen my mom, so when she arrived at the Melbourne airport on December 16th, it was a warm and fuzzy reunion to say the least. She and Charlie (who arrived a few days later) were finally taking their first real vacation in (some obscene number of) years and, much to the delight of Ben and myself, were spending Christmas and New Years with us down under. We spent our first few days in Melbourne, showing the two of them around and walking a ridiculous number of kilometers during our daily touring. We had beautiful weather for the most part; it was unseasonably cool so the climate change from winter to summer wasn’t too harsh for them. 

Picture
Bridge Street Precinct in the suburb of Richmond, Melbourne. There was a great old fashioned cheese makers here!
Picture
Exploring laneways with mum!
We wanted to make sure they really got a good feel for Melbourne and all it had to offer, and even though they only had few days it wasn’t too difficult since we walked in, out, and around the city until our feet turned to nubs. As we may have explained in one of our first Australia posts, what truly sets Melbourne apart from other cities is its laneway café culture. Secret alleyways and corridors are hidden all throughout the city center, each one containing anything from upscale restaurants to specialty shops to cheap cafés, awesome graffiti and public art. Soaking in all the little hidden gems of Melbourne counterculture was a great way to spend a few afternoons. 


Picture
3D graffiti.
Picture
Charlie joins the crew! Photo courtesy of Nancy :)
Picture
Other highlights of our wanderings included the Queen Victoria Market, the Botanic Gardens, walking along the Yarra River, and (particularly for Ben and myself) the plethora of delicious, real food available to us. After eating nothing but canned food and the occasional reject orange for several weeks, being able to go to a restaurant or café or bakery was magnificent. Melbourne has a fairly large Asian population, so cheap dim sum, pho, and sushi rolls were abundant and made for some fun nights out in Chinatown and Little Vietnam. Thanks again Mom and Charlie for keeping us well fed! 


Picture
Ah to be young and engaged.
Picture
Ben took this incredible photo of a family of black swans at the botanic gardens!
Picture
Ducks eating duck weed. Nom nom nom.
Picture
Sun and storms over Fed Square