Arriving in Melbourne and scurrying off to the Grampains!

Nov 22, 2014: Today I arrive in Melbourne and the plan is to drive to the Grampians National Park. The maps and descriptions promise gorgeous mountains, views, and rich wildlife.

“Planned itinerary”

Not really planned per se, but an idea of directionally where I want to go and some earmarks on what to see. There is just so much awesome all around! I should add I DO plan on avoiding any snakes, as I have been warned twice that I am at risk to this due to the time of year, temp, and areas I’ll be bush-trail-running (as I have just made it while sitting at a cafe here at the Sydney airport):

Day 1

  1. Rental car out of Melbourne
  2. Take A8 to National Park
  3. Stop at Ballarat for some fuel, coffee (roughly 90 miles out of Melbourne) with described very Victorian architecture due to the gold rush
  4. Head to Halls Gap to orient myself, check out any visitor centers (for a trail map!)
  5. Then aim to stop at or run to: Boroka Lookout, Aboriginal Paintings, and Mt. Difficult
  6. I’ll be driving south, so on my way down to Warrnambool (where I short notice booked a spot) I’ll try and stop and enjoy the views of Cathedral Rock, Mt. William and through to Dunkeld
  7. Sleep over in Warrnambool

Day 2

  1. Drive along ocean road!
  2. See Loch Ard Gorge, 12 Apostles (maybe do a hellicopter ride), Gibsons Steps (right after the 12 apostles)
  3. Koala Bear sighting hopes at – Cape Otway Lightstation, Kennett River (Turn off the Great Ocean Road at Kennett River and then immediately turn into Grey River Road. After one to two kilometres along the road you will be almost guaranteed to spot koalas in the gum trees.)
  4. Head to Melbourne

 

The Day 2 is anticipated to take 6 hours to drive it and then I’ll meet a colleague for dinner and planning of work for the workweek.

 

 

 

 

 

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Diving in the Great Barrier Reef, Cairns w/ SwiftBoat

Nov 17, 2014: Diving has it's privileges. You get to be at level with marine life and 'be present' with them. I love snorkeling but there is much more to be had under the surface for an extended time.

I booked my travel through Dive Cairns and they were prompt and accurate in their descriptions. I selected the Swiftboat crew and was very happy with them. Their dive masters were professional, aware of everyone's skill levels, and even changed my dive plan due to an early flight (at a cost to them).

What is this 'privilege'? It was a chance to be 1.5 meters from a black tipped reef shark who was hunting for some lunch; to swim with a turtle for an extended time and enjoy his grace, and finally to swim a schools of fish around the reefs.

There is so much to say about diving in the GBR, but I would sum it up as amazing and striking at the extreme immense balanced ecosystem of nature here.

I enjoyed 2 dives and 1 snorkel – absolutely worth the energy to make it a reality. I believe the difference between doing something and dreaming is execution, and I am grateful for the opportunity my work has provided to me here and the 'no hesitation' mentality I have adopted for 2014.

Do more – as Buddha might say 'the error is, you think you have time'.

James

 

 

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What to see and do in New Zealand, a 2014 wrap-up

Nov 20, 2014: My trip to New Zealand was more like a sprint across the North Island. My itinerary was 2 nights in Turangi (just south of Lake Taupo) and 1 night in Te Aroha (at a beautiful old bank turned coffee shop turned B&B – “Banco') totalling 850km driven. I met many people who were scheduled to be vacationing for 3-5 months! Many were repeat visitors. I imagine the island would require many weeks to fully appreciate everything, but since I only had 3 days .. here are my things to do (and hopefully a note to self for future visits):

  1. Visit the National Parks, Tongariro was excellent and there are many others
  2. Lounge in a thermal river (amazing)
  3. In to sweets? – have “hoki poki” ice cream (mini caramel bits)
  4. In to friedness – have “Fish n Chips” from a street merchant or purveyor serving it in a newspaper (no more than $15 for two meals)

Future things would be to grab a bike and hit the roads, as they are in great condition. Just beware the wind at certain times of year is ridiculous.

When does summer start?

Summer SHOULD start around Nov, but can start as late as January. Plan accordingly!

Where did I stay?

I used AirBnB for my entire travel schedule in Cairns and New Zealand

In Turangi I stayed with a nice little family. They converted an outside building to a small bedroom and we shared the kitchen together. I cooked eggs and had avocado each morning. We shared coffee in the morning while the kids got ready for school, and tea in the evenings discussing the local culture. A great way of experiencing any country. Their home was modest, but without their insight on the national park – I could have been in a very dire position (the husband was an outdoorsman by profession and gave me great insight on how to complete my ultra run)

How did I chose where I went/drove/visited?

I selected the Turangi location based on location to the mountain and reviews stating the owners were familiar with the mountain.

Te Aroha was selected for no particular reason, other than I knew I would be heading north and wanted something about 90 minutes from the airport (as I had a 9am flight). I didn't know that Te Aroha was near some of the islands best springs/spas.

Sunscreen?

Sunscreen – MANDATORY, this is because of the UV rays from the ozone layer are poisenous.

 

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Tongariro Park, part II – New Zealand

Nov 19, 2014: So today it is sunny… which after yesterday's escapade it is a striking difference. Given the weather is so improved I decided to head back out to the Tongariro Park and this time hit the trail off SH1. Nothing more than 10k planned, but the plan was try and see what I missed.

The carpark was reasonable enough to find and as promised there were great views. From this trail there were plenty of exposed areas to see Mt Ngauruhoe. Unfortunately despite all the clearing out of the weather the con of the volcano was still masked from me.

This trail is definitely worth the time – great “little” river, easy pathway, and excellent views.

 

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Running the Tongarero Circuit

Nov 19, 2014: 48km run; 10 hours; 17 degrees Farenheit; 40-60 mph winds in most place; percipitation, and 20-50 feet of visibility. That about sums up my run.

Emotionally I went through happy, sad, depressed, scared, worried, fearful, elation, and on … I did also feel anger and disappointment that due to the weather I could not see the grandeour of the landscape.

Logistics

To run it I had packed my ultraspire backpack with full 2L of water + nuuns, a separate fuel bottle, some lara bars, cliff bars, and bonk bars. I also had extra food, salt tabs, heat pads, electrolyte nuuns, athletic tape, and a headlamp in case things went sideways.

Clothing wise I went with thermal leggings, water proof outershell pants, wind resistant sock booties, thermal shirt, nike down jacket layer, and then a goretex outer shell for rain and wind. I wore my ski gloves (which were great until they got soaked), and finally I had 2 caps – a mesh and a knit one.

Race plan

Start with the wind to my back and tackle the mountains first. I then planned to summit the first mountain (which I only made up halfway) and if successful hit the second. From there I would go down the other side to Oturure Hut, and then down and around to the Whakapapa Village. From there I would connect back up. I told the family I was staying with if things went bad I would just do the Alpine Crossing – so they could tell the search parties where to look.

I thought I could run a good deal and that would allow me to finish in 1 day instead of the 3-4 advised by the local park administration.

What actually happened

The first part of the run went great. I made it to the top of the ridgeline in an hour (average is 2), and the wind here was wicked. Almost wish I had a ski mask + goggles. I decided to try and summit and headed up. Right away I began losing stick markers due to the visibility going down to 20ish feet on the mountain. The wind, temps, and moisture were so bad that plants were frozen with an inch of ice on one side.

I re-located the stick markers as I headed up. A few times I had to laterlly correct. Eventually I started going up what can only be desicrbed as lava rocks the size of bocce balls, everywhere. If you have ever tried to climb in one of these pits of balls you can relate to the challenge of this climb. From here I was on all fours trying to make progress. It was around here where I could no longer find the flag above me. I carried on for a bit thinking it would be above, but never found it. At this point I decided to call it. I was literally freezing on one side, and was worried I might get seriously lost. Making it down was no easy activity, but I succeeded without injury. Another day I will summit Mt. Ngauruhoe.

I continued on the ridge, made it to the emerald lakes which were cool and then down the back. The backside was cool because you ride one of the mountain fingers. Now this wasn't easy going due to the rock formations, but I could start to see the landscape!

I really felt like I was running after the Hobbits in this area. This was fun imagery for me. The next two huts were easily done due to the weather being better – lesser wind, near zero percipitation and a bit of sunshine.

Unfortunately the last two segments ended up being the hardest. The Waihohonu Hut to Whakapapa Village was in my face full on percipitation (rain hitting you so hard it stings), running up bush and in the river tributaries = wet feet. Also the temps dropped again. This leg was stated to be 5 hours, and ended up finishing it in 2.5.

Frustratingly I chose at a split in the path to head to the village and not the Falls. I thought this would be the best given the maps showed the ending n the same place. This is wrong. They do meet in the village but they are separated by maybe 150 feet of road. This is not a lot at this distance, but if I took the Falls (which were probably awesome to see) I would have shaved off a few K.

The last leg was a trail under disrepair. It was basically a mud trap the whole way. The edge of the trail was clearly being worked to allow for a new footpath, but that was only in a few places. The mud ravines as I called them were 3-6 feet deep, and made for very difficult climbing.

Of all the river crossings, I only bit it twice, and felt pretty good about that result.

Final Thoughts

Definitely do again, when it isn't an arctic hell. Pack lighter fluids given the hut system. More backup gear due to the variability of the weather. Maybe poles to help handle the river crossings and the descents.

 

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Diary in Cairns

Nov 16, 2014: Cairns is a more friendly and relaxed Miami… and much smaller. The sun is hot, everyone is outside enjoying the weather, and it is super kid friendly. So, maybe less Miami and just better.

Given the ocean current and jelly fish problems, there is actually a huge (half a football field size I think) water area that is about knee deep. It has a little beach, a huge lawn, and there is tons of room for everyone. When I got the pier/ocean area this is the first thing I saw and well into the night it was a popular area. Definitely worth an hour or more of your time to just relax in the sun.

Restaurants and shopping are classic beach area prices and selection. If you can, buy your stuff pretty far from the beach.

What most impressed me was the water – the strength of the current and the bats. Yes, bats. At sunset, which was beautiful and very long, the sky began to fill with bats. They were coming from the mountains behind the town, and wow. I have never seen such bats. They looked like flying squirrels compared to what we have in the States.

For dinner I ate at Pho Viet. It was good, though the chicken wasn't the best cuts. Good tasting though. I had ambitions of going to “Coopers” which is a nice spot on the pier, but it was a concert + tequila event .. and well, I was #1 definitely under dressed and #2 it was quite pricey. Maybe in a group, but solo it wasn't the meal for me.

Tomorrow I scuba on the Great Barrier Reef. I have dreamed of this for ages. I am hesitantly anxious excited nervous and thrilled all at once.

Oh, and hitting the hay early 9:30pm … surprised I made it 12 hours on my feet! Good night Sunday.

 

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Sydney – Day 1 of Down Under

The flight over, 24 hrs – wasn't bad! I made it through 1 week's worth of Learning Python, read roughly 70 pages split between training and 'Innovators', watched a movie, knocked out two advisory board duties, and crushed my email. Honestly I think I should fly longer stretches, the ability to focus and put quality time in is great. Though I think my writing did deteriorate after the 18th hour, so those are in Draft mode for reviewing again w/ more espresso!

I arrived at 8am local time to a rainy morning. Customs took about 45 minutes (recommend getting the chipped-passport for quicker processing to others) and an easy 15 minute taxi downtown.

The hotel was gracious enough to hold my bags while I am hopping between cities, so I only need to travel with a reduced set of bags. I had roughly 2 hours to enjoy Sydney before heading back to the airport for Cairns. I had no plan, other than stretch the legs and see what Sydney had to offer.

Sydney had A LOT – especially on a quiet Sunday morning.

I found Hyde Park, which was huge, beautiful, and just gorgous. The sun was coming out, the rain was done, and foreign trees, birds, and flowers were everywhere. Highly recommend a stroll through here.

I then aimed for the Botanical Gardens, and found an underground “express way”. Which was literally super long moving sidewalk that saved me 10 minutes. (I had no idea when I entered it, but that is the point of a random walk exploration).

 

The Gardens were beautiful, clean, and eventually I even got to the water and could see the famed Opera House.

Honestly the best part was just hearing the animals, seeing the plants, and taking it in. The flora and fauna are sooo different!

 

I head back to the airport and would only have a few highlights:

  1. Hit the parks, wow
  2. Go slow, you are not there to see anything but be a part of it
  3. Sitting up front in a taxi is the norm here

Off to another adventure!

 

James

 

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