This blog covers our trip around the world in 2006. We will post here with news of where we are and what we've been up to. Enjoy! Ang & Jane

Friday, December 22

Location: Bangkok
Miles Travelled: 37924
Time Zone: GMT + 7

Last day in the "sunny" islands of Thailand's south-east coast, so we spent some time sitting on the beach reading before going online to try and book accommodation in Chiang Mai - typically we'd happened to pick the busiest weekend in a several-month-long flower festival there as there was also a jazz festival on! Hopped on our taxi to the ferry terminal (yes, I did mean to say "on" and not "in" - it was an open pick-up truck and we sat on the back of it!) and just about got there on time for our boat. It was a 3 hour trip to the mainland, but we passed the time by watching a very green version of "Superman Returns" on the tv in the air-conditioned lounge. In Chumpon, we had a couple of hours to pass before our VIP bus to Bangkok, so we had dinner and went for a wander around a market nearby. The bus left at 9 and we arrived in Bangkok at 4:30am - 2 hours earlier than we'd expected!! We hopped straight into a taxi and had a couple of hours of not-very-comfortable sleep on hard plastic benches in the airport, before breakfast and eventually checking in. Naturally after all our travel we were a bit tired so when we got to our guesthouse in Chiang Mai we just booked our two day trek for the following day and relaxed for the evening...

Got picked up in the morning in a covered pick-up truck, where they squeezed 11 people in the back and me, the driver and the tour guide in the front! Our group was comprised of us two Irish, 2 Aussies, 4 French and 5 Swedes. After a short stop at a local market where we were encouraged to buy some little gifts for the children who would entertain us that evening, we reached our destination - an elephant camp!! We had a lovely 45 minute ride on these beautiful creatures, then got into a cage to cross the river to our lunch spot. This was when the hike actually began - and three hours later we finally got to the top of the hill, having ascended 600 metres! The pain...
Not to worry, at the hill tribe family's home there was the option of enjoying a massage for the princely sum of 100Baht (about 2.50 euro) and Jane decided to go for it. I probably should have too!! Afterwards we had dinner and drinks on the deck of the house, the children came and sang and danced for us, then a few of us played cards before we all crashed out on the most uncomfortable sleeping space ever! (And that includes the chairs at the airport!)

Next morning we all had breakfast on the deck and then went on an hourlong downhill hike to a waterfall. The water was pretty cold, but I figured since I'd bothered to put on the swimwear, I may as well give it a go. The power of the water nearly took the skin off my back, but it was good fun. I had plenty of time to dry off, as we set off on a 2 hour hike which seemed to mainly consist of crossing the same river over and over again! Eventually we got to our lunch spot at a rafting place, and had a great time whitewater rafting down the river - us, the two Aussies Jenna and Daniel and the youngest Swede Robert (aged about 12 or so - he'd decided Daniel was the coolest and he wanted to be on the same boat as him!). Next on the agenda was actual rafting - on bamboo rafts! Daniel has a new career awaiting him as a gondolier, as he expertly steered us down the river avoiding all pitfalls... Meanwhile we all sat IN the water - the weight of 5 people on the raft was a tad too much and it didn't quite float above the water line...
Later we got a pickup back to Chiang Mai and we treated ourselves to a night at the cinema and dinner at Pizza Hut!

Next day we were so exhausted and stiff that we pretty much did nothing all day... Eventually we managed to get ourselves out of bed with enough time to go visit the Sunday market where we bought some souvenirs and gifts. We figured we'd done well... We'd set the alarm for half 8 the following morning but I was awoken by a text at about 8, which I eventually decided to read - lucky I did as it was from the airline telling us that our flight was being combined with a later flight and we could go ahead and enjoy a couple of extra hours of sleep! It was a bad day for travel though as when we did get to the airport, the flight was delayed and then on arrival in Bangkok the trip into town took an hour and a half!! That's twice what it took the first time we did the trip. The hotel had kept our room so we picked up our stored luggage and after a lovely pint of Bulmer's over dinner, we repacked for our move the following morning to another hotel.

After checking in we went looking for a tailors so we could get some suits made. Found one where we spent ages looking at styles and fabrics only to be told that the suits were about the same price we'd pay at home! So we went for a wander and found a nice place where the prices were much nearer our range. After choosing fabrics and styles all over again, and getting measured we headed off to buy some cheap dvds and some junk food to enjoy with a tv movie.
Next day we made full use of the hotel's facilities by lounging by the lovely big pool til the afternoon, then showered before heading for our first suit fitting. Met up with Eimear and Gina later for a few drinks with them and Eimear's aunt and cousin who are in Thailand for Christmas. It was great catching up again (even though it had only been a week!) and we arranged to meet up the next night too.

While I lazed in bed all the next morning as I was feeling sick, Jane wandered up to the pool for a while. Later, when I was feeling better (and no, it wasn't a hangover, I was actually sick!), we went for a bite to eat and for a browse of fabric shops. That evening we finally got around to doing something on my sister's list of sightseeing/shopping - we went to the Suan Lum Night Bazaar! It was good fun, but so big we didn't manage to get through the whole place. When we got back it was too late to meet the girls, and we had to pack and weigh our bags for today's flight so we said goodbye by phone and got to work. One thing became apparent - another box (each!) would have to be sent home... So that's what we did this morning before checking out and going for another suit fitting. Since then we've both gotten our hair done and I had a facial... A nice relaxing way to end our time in Bangkok! Hopefully our journey home will be uneventful and in no time at all we'll be meeting our families at the airport...

Location: Bangkok
Miles Travelled: 37924
Time Zone: GMT + 07:00

We caught our flight to Bangkok on the 3rd and once we landed we grabbed a taxi to our hotel. We dumped our stuff and went to have some brunch and luckily for me we managed to find somewhere that served Bulmers - I was very very happy as it had been way too long! We lingered there for awhile and then headed back to our hotel and asked if we could leave luggage with them while we went down to the islands and they said yes so we spent the next while sorting out what to leave and what to take. After that we had dinner and updated the blog. The next day we had another early flight to catch south to Surat Thani. We had no idea how we were going to get to Koh Pangnan once we arrived but thankfully we didn't have to figure it out as there was a coach at the airport waiting to transport all those heading to the islands. We hopped onboard and drove to the port where we had lunch before jumping on a boat to Koh Pangnan. Once in Koh Pangnan we had an interesting taxi ride with 12 other people to Haad Rin which is where we were staying and where the Full Moon Party is held. The taxi's there and in most of Thailand are like pick-up trucks with roofs over the back - very secure I don't think! In the taxi we met an Irish couple Alan and Emma who ended up coming to check out our hotel as a place to stay - it didn't have any rooms left for them so they found somewhere else. We tried contacting Gina and Eimear during the evening but no joy so we headed into town for dinner and a few drinks. On our way back to our hotel we bumped into Alan and Emma and decided to head towards the beach for another one. We were joined by two guys Paddy and Wes that we'd met at the pier earlier and so of course it turned into a session. It was a great night until at about 2.30 I discovered much to my horror that my camera and wallets had been taken from my bag from under our table. As I hadn't planned a big night I had brought them out which of course was very silly as the beachs are reknowned for pickpockets. I tried to not let it ruin my night and continued dancing like a lunatic for another hour or so before we headed home. The next morning we were just getting ready to leave when Eimear and Gina knocked on our door - it was great to have finally made contact. We chatted over brekkie and arranged to meet that evening after Ang and I travelled to Thong Sala to report all the stuff stolen. After reporting the evil deed we wandered round the shops before heading back to Haad Rin and meeting the girls in the Outback Bar. It was the Kings Birthday and so there was no alcohol being served that night - probably a good thing considering the previous night and the fact that the Full Moon Party was the following day. So we sipped on soft drinks and watched a couple of movies in the bar.

The next day we awoke to Monsoon like weather which we discovered was the tail end of Typhoon Durian which caused havoc in the Philipines. Everyone spent the day with long faces on watching dvd's and the awful weather. We met another couple Paul and Jill who were in our hotel and chatted with them for a few hours before heading off to get ready for the party. Our hotel had a buffet on so we grabbed some food at that before heading in to town to meet up with Eimear and Gina. On the way we bumped into Alan and Emma again who were headed for the beach. Once we'd met the girls we headed to the beach to meet the others. Alan had bought some paint and we all ended up with various things painted on us which was cool. The beach was mobbed and the music was blaring from every bar all along it. Any bit of beach that didn't have a bar now had little stalls set up mostly selling the famous "buckets". And they are as they appear buckets filled with drink - I decided to try one and eventually managed to finish it! Ang decided to head home at around 1 and so the girls and I walked her to the hotel (which was on the same beach luckily) and then I stayed on. We had said we'd stay on till daylight dawned and that is exactly what we did...dancing away while the sun rose which was amazing - I just loved being on that beach!

The next day the weather was still really bad so after a late start we wandered into town and popped into a bar to watch a movie. There was a big power cut at 6 so when Gina and Eimear arrived we just ordered some food and chatted for awhile. Afterwards we wandered round a few shops, booked our travel to Koh Tao and had some yummy pancakes for dessert. The next day the weather was still bad so we did pretty much the same thing, headed into town shopping and watched a dvd. We met up with Eimear and Gina at 7ish and headed down to the beach for a few drinks. Paul and Jill joined us and we had a great night and ended up out till the wee small hours. The next day we were leaving for Koh Tao and so after brekkie we got our taxi to the pier where we met Eimear and Gina and boarded the boat. We arrived on Koh Tao at about 2.30 and after a short spin in to see a resort we started to discover that everywhere was full and ended up spending a nightmarish few hours searching for somewhere to stay. We ended up on the south of the island which was beautiful. That evening Ang stayed in the hotel as she was feeling a bit ill and the girls are I went for a walk along the beach and checked out what was around.

The next day we finally got our chance to go lie on a beach as the weather was scorching so thats exactly what we did. Gina had her first day of her diving course so she had to leave at 12ish. After sunbathing we all met up and headed for dinner and a movie and then went tp the Eazy Bar overlooking and overhanging the beach for a drink - I love that bar! We should have known it was too good to last and it was...the weather was rubbish the next day which was unfortunate cos Eimear and I had decided to rent quad bikes. We ended up settling for mopeds but they were still cool. Ang hopped on the back of mine and we headed off to explore the island inbetween torrential showers of rain. It only took a few hours to travel every road there was to travel and so we returned to the resort and met up with Gina. Unfortunetly Gina had discovered that diving was not for her and so was a little down as she had had to quit her course. We had dinner and chilled out and then Ang and I spent a few hours organising our travel to Chiang Mai in north Thailand.

The next day Ang and I were going diving and Gina and Eimear decided to come along on the boat and go snorkelling. The diving was fantastic and both Ang and I really enjoyed both dives. The first was at Shark Island where unfortunetly we didn't see any sharks and the second was Au Lauk bay where we went snorkelling too. The girls had a pretty miserable time as the water was a lot choppier than we'd thought and they both felt pretty ill. After the diving we took a rest in the resort before heading out for dinner. We said farewell to the girls for awhile as they were heading to Koh Samui the following day and we were headed to Bangkok on our way to Chiang Mai. But we were all to meet up again in a weeks time in Bangkok.

Sunday, December 3

Location: Bangkok
Miles travelled: 36009
Time Zone: GMT + 07:00

So the day came to leave Vietnam and head for Cambodia via the Mekong Delta. We started off the trip with a bus ride to Cai Be. From there we hopped on our first boat which was to take us along the Mekong through a floating market, which was made up of lots of boats all floating in the middle of the river selling all sorts. Most boats advertised their stock by hanging some samples from a tall bamboo stick at the front of the boat. After the market we went on a cruise along the river and ended up at a village where we jumped off the boat and onto bicycles for a short ride to a house where we had lunch before cycling back to the boat and heading for Vinh Long. Once at Vinh Long we got back onto a bus and then a ferry to Long Xuyen. The fellow ferry riders seemed very amused by us and kept looking at us like we were all aliens or something. The itinerary for the trip said that we'd be at our hotel for sunset i.e. 6pmish however we seemed to be running very late and only made it onto the final boat for sunset. So we sat on the top of the boat and watched sunset while chatting and having a few beers. We finally took off and got to watch a lightning storm as we headed slowly along the river towards our stop for the night at Chau Doc. We had dinner on the boat and finally got to our hotel at 9.30pm. The hotel was pretty basic and we had a horrible nights sleep as it was about 35 degrees in the room.

The next morning we were up early to continue our trip after grabbing some brekkie. We jumped on the bus for a quick trip down to the water where we jumped into little boats which were only for 2 people and which we manned by a local person who rowed us along the river. We rowed through a floating village and stopped to see and hear about the fish farming that was done there. We then went to a Cham village where we got out of the boats and spent the last of our Vietnamese dong. We got back into our little boats which took us to another bus. After a short trip we boarded a small and very warm boat which was to take us on a cruise to the border and on into Cambodia. The border crossing was easy and before we knew it we were in Cambodia floating along. Once our cruise was over we were to get onto our final bus which was to take us to Phnom Penh. However we were again running late and thanks to brilliant organisation on the tour companies part - we didn't all fit on the bus. Basically they had a minibus which had enough seats for the number of people but neglected to take into account that everyone was carrying backpacks which of course took over 5 seats. So after lots of negotiation the extra people got a car to Phnom Penh and the rest of us had a very squashed trip in the mini bus. It was a really long day so when we finally got to our hotel in Phnom Penh at 7 and were told our room had been given away we were not very happy. Thankfully they had a room in a hotel just down the road which we gladly took. That night we were wrecked so just ate in the hotel, booked our bus to Siem Reap for the next day and crashed out.
We caught our bus to Siem Reap and arrived to the most hassling I've ever experienced. We could barely get off the bus for the amount of Tuk-Tuk drivers that were trying to get us to take them as their driver or stay in their hotel. It took every bit of restraint I had not to shout at them but eventually we found a Tuk-Tuk who would take us to our chosen hotel. Our Tuk-Tuk driver's name was Nee and once he'd dropped us off at the hotel we arranged for him to collect us later that afternoon and bring us to the temples for sunset.

What a sight Angkor Wat was as we pulled up just as the sun was beginning to was huge and we happily spent an hour wandering round taking photos before darkness fell and we returned to the hotel. We made further arrangements with Nee to be collected the following morning for more temple viewing.
We jumped into the Tuk-Tuk at 8 the next morning and headed back to Angkor Wat for a longer stay. Its really amazing and climbing up to the top of the towers was great although not for those afraid of heights! After Angkor Wat we headed for Angkor Thom which has several temples in it as well as other wonderful structures. We saw Bayon, Baphuon, Phimeanakas and Preah Palilay temples and also the Terrace of the Elephants. After doing all that walking we grabbed some food before heading to our last stop of the day - Ta Prohm. Ta Prohm is where TombRaider was shot and seriously reminded us of Indiana Jones - so much so that I continually hummed the theme tune as we clambered over the fallen rocks. I think Ta Prohm was my favourite of the day. That night we just relaxed round the hotel. The next day we had scheduled in another few temple visits with Nee. We were in the Tuk-Tuk at 8 and off we went on a lovely hour long ride through the countryside to Bantreay Srei temple which is famed for its carvings and once you step inside you can see why. The walls were covered in incredibly detailed carvings which were gorgeous. Once we were done standing and staring at the carvings we jumped back into our Tuk-Tuk and headed back for town. Enroute we stopped at Pre Rup temple. This wasn't one that we'd heard of but since we were passing we thought we'd pop in and wow were we happy we did. Once we climbed the zillion steps to the top the view was amazing. It looked like you were in the middle of the Amazon...its was breathtaking and we couldn't believe that no-one had mentioned it to us! We left Pre Rup and headed back towards town to stop at the Landmine Museum. The Museum was set up by Aki Ra who has spent years removing landmines from the Siem Reap area and his museum helps this cause. We had a guide named Hak who was a landmine victim himself who had not only lost his leg to a landmine when he was young but also his older brother and sister to the same mine. It was a humbling experience to hear him talk about it and then show us all the different devices and how incredibly hard they are to see when positioned in the ground. There have been 40,000 amputations since 1979 and there are still up to 6 million landmines left in Cambodia.

We headed back to the hotel for lunch and a short break before Nee collected us for another sunset trip - this time to Phnom Krom, a hill over looking Siem Reap Lake. After eventually finding our way to the top of the hill we sat and watched the sun set over the lake which was lovely. Afterwards we headed back and said our thanks and farewells to Nee who had been a great driver for the last few days. After having a few very busy days we decided to take a rest day and just relax in Siem Reap. We wandered round the market and then headed to an internet cafe to update the blog. We had a few cocktails that evening before booking our bus to Battambong for the next morning.

The bus trip to Battambong was very hot and sweaty but we finally got there and jumped on 2 motos (mopeds) to get to our hotel. We checked in and had some food and relaxed for the rest of the day. The following day we wandered round the markets and met an Irish guy who had been on our bus the day before. He informed me that the temples and the palace (the only main sights in Battambong) were both closed and so there wasn't really much to do so we just chilled out and booked our bus to Phnom Penh for the next morning.

We arrived in Phnom Penh in the afternoon and grabbed a Tuk-Tuk to our hotel. After checking in we grabbed some food and sorted out a city tour for the following day which would bring us everywhere we had wanted to go. The next morning the mini-bus picked us up and brought us to our first stop, Tuol Sleung (S-21). It was a prison and is now a genocidal museum showing photos of some of the thousands of people to have been kept there who never left and also some of the rooms where 14 bodies were found after the regime. It was pretty harrowing for first thing in the morning and really got to you...only a few of the 14,000 people who were put in there survived! After that we headed to the Killing Fields which us where the Tuol Sleung prisoners were brought to be executed. They have built a memorial to those who died there and inside you can walk around a glass tower filled with 8,000 skulls from victims whose bodies had been disinterrned. All around the memorial were the now empty mass graves where all the bodies had been found as well as land underwhich some graves still lay. Our next stop was at the Russian market in town where we had lunch in a little cafe on a corner before wandering round the market and buying a few bits and pieces. The next stop was the Royal Palace. We weren't sure what to expect but once we walked into the grounds we both just went wow at the beautful gardens and gorgeous golden edged buildings that surrounded us. Within the Royal Palace is the Silver Pagoda - so called because it is floored with solid silver tiles each weighing 1.5kg which also contains a jade buddha. Once we'd finished gazing at the buildings and fabulous surroundings we headed back to the hotel. We went up to the rooftop bar and watched an amazing sunset over the lake while having a few drinks.

The next day was our last in Cambodia so we went to both the Central and Russian markets for some last minute shopping before grabbing dinner on to roof of the hotel and packing our bags for our early flight to Bangkok. We got up at 6 and after grabbing some take-away brekkie we jumped into a Tuk-Tuk and headed for the airport. We were off to the final country on our trip - Thailand.

Monday, November 27

Location: Siem Reap
Miles Travelled: 35514
Time Zone: GMT + 7

We arrived in our hostel in Singapore pretty late, and it was only in the morning that we got a chance to see what a lovely old colonial-looking building it was. It's also set on a busy pedestrian street with a huge Mosque at one end. We got a suggested walking tour route from the girl at reception and set off for Little India to see one of her sights - the oldest temple in Singapore. What a let-down! It's just a big ugly cube of a building, painted in wine and white. And it was a really long walk!! Ah well...
After lunch we were off to Raffles to have a Singapore Sling before getting the Duck Tour around the city so we'd at least have some idea of the place. Nothing went to plan however and we spent ages looking for the Duck Tours office so we could book our tickets, so of course we didn't have time to have our Singapore Sling after all! Ah well, the Duck Tour was good fun though it didn't go to half the sights that the literature said it would and instead gave us a tour of random hotels, just for the laugh. That morning we had made one good decision and booked tickets for the Night Safari in Singapore Zoo - brilliant!! We loved it, wandering around looking for animals in their darkened pens... The tram that travels through the zoo is amazing too - there are actually animals out in the open, wandering around on the road! Afterwards we managed to get into the live animal show, which was really good too. They had some creatures arrive into the arena by scampering along a rope that was only 2 foot above our heads!! They also had a very funny sketch where one staff member acted like a complete idiot of an audience member and pretended she'd lost her friend Molly - who turned out to be a boa that was in a box under some poor people's seats!! Not us, thank God! Afterwards, we had a little time to spare and so we finally got our Singapore Sling in one of the zoo bars!

Arriving in Hanoi was crazy... We got picked up at the airport along with a Dutch couple Jasper and Sonne, but traffic was absolutely hectic and it not only took ages to get to our hostel, but we had to take a detour which meant we got a very fast introduction to normal road behaviour in Vietnam. It was then we had our first lesson in Vietnamese driving - the horn is all-important as it signals to the driver ahead of you that you intend to overtake but a) need the other driver to give more room or b) are reminding the other driver not to randomly pull across in front of you. It also signals to a driver coming towards you that you require the other driver to a) get off your side of the road, or b) pull over on their side of the road and give you more room to overtake the vehicle you are currently overtaking. Did you get that? Good. (Perhaps a practical demonstration makes things clearer faster!)
But by far the first thing you notice about Vietnamese traffic is the motorbikes! There are zillions of them!!! I'm pretty sure that's not much of an exaggeration... And they carry EVERYTHING on the backs of these things - during our time in Vietnam we saw cages of chickens, cages of pigs, entire families (5 people!!), huge piles of straw, massive mountains of polystyrene and even furniture!!
Our hostel was really a hotel and to celebrate our first night in Vietnam we popped open the bottle of sparkling wine Shelina had very kindly given us as a farewell gift from Australia and toasted the girl herself.

Our first full day in Hanoi, we went to find the Water Puppetry Theatre and meanwhile learned how to cross the road - i.e. slowly, watching the motorbikes coming towards you and allowing them time to go around you. Don't think for one minute that pedestrian crossings are any great help in these situations as they just mean that you probably have a better view of traffic - nobody stops for you, not even when the pedestrian light is green!! Lots of fun and entertainment! Near the Water Puppetry Theatre we found an absolutely lovely little temple on the shores of Hoan Kiem Lake, and spent some time there admiring the building and the statues. Afterwards we booked in to the night show in the theatre and then went to see the Temple of Literature - gorgeous, gorgeous place! It had a bonsai exhibition on while we were there, and there were some amazing little trees around.
Afterwards we went to the Army Museum, which was the scariest place I've ever been to... Luckily we only had about an hour and a half there cos I think I might have been completely terrified of these lovely people if we'd stayed much longer. It is the biggest exercise in propaganda I could imagine - every exhibit detailed how many American (1960's to 70's) or French soldiers (around 1954) were killed by the exhibit. And we're not talking all guns or machetes, there were clothing exhibits with labels saying how many were killed by the hero who wore them. Outside were the remains of some US aeroplanes that had been shot down or captured during the "American War".
After booking all our trips and onward travel, we were off to the Water Puppetry Theatre for our show - very entertaining and sometimes even funny! And we bumped into Jasper and Sonne there too.
Off to Halong Bay the next morning which is a beautiful World Heritage area containing 3000 or so islands. We'd a lovely relaxing time there - visiting a floating village, many caves, kayaking to a hidden lagoon and staying on the boat overnight. We met two Irish girls, Gina and Eimear from Monaghan who have been about 2 to 4 days ahead of us ever since - very handy for accommodation and tour tips! And you'll never guess who else were on our boat - Jasper and Sonne!! We were unlikely to meet them again after the boat trip, as they were not going back to Hanoi afterwards but going north instead. It was a really good two days.
Back in Hanoi, I had one of my fabulous bouts of stupidity. We had a train to catch that night for our trip so SaPa for a bit of hill-walking and a homestay with a hill-tribe family. Long story short, I had gone off on my own and came back so late that not only did we almost miss it, but poor Jane had been climbing the walls with worry because the only reason I could possibly miss a train was that I was dead or dying. She now agrees that stupidity is another reason - but only because I swear it will never happen again! One good thing did come out of it, because Jane met 4 lovely Belgian guys (Luc, Nico, Johan and Ricky) who were also going on our train and would be in SaPa at the same time as us. Oh, and a mini-celebrity, Jerome the travelling gnome! ( - we urge all of you to sign the petition!)

We'd a lovely guide in SaPa, an 18yr old girl of the local Black Hmoob tribe called Ya. As soon as we started on our way, we picked up two lovely little 8yr old girls called Mai and Ju who spent the day with us and made us little bracelets and garlands - which is a trade off for later in the afternoon when they try to sell you stuff and you end up feeling you have to!! We spent the night in the village of Ta Van in the home of the Omg Au (dunno how it's spelt, but that's how it sounds) family who are of the Green Zay tribe. They were in the middle of re-concreting the floor of the house, so we got a chance to see them at work. Ya made a fabulous dinner for us, and showed us how to make spring rolls - our families are going to be sick of eating them not long after we get home! We also had some really really really strong local rice wine... Vile!!
The next day we visited a waterfall on our way, then bumped into the Belgians and discovered that poor Johan had managed to try and kill himself by falling down the waterfall trying to rescue his walking pole... Luckily he didn't do too much damage - or at least he didn't admit to doing much damage! We got the bus back to Lao Cai where we had a couple of beers with a Canadian guy called Aidan while waiting for the night train to Hanoi.

Back in Hanoi, we had the free use of a hotel room so we could shower and have a nap before getting another night train, this time to Hue. For the first time we were in a 6-berth cabin, sharing with 4 older Vietnamese men. They had a great night - everything we did seemed to amuse them and even doing nothing had them in convulsions too. They were especially amused by Jane's attempts to get onto her bunk - we were in the middle row and she had to dive past her giant rucksack which was on the end of the bunk. (I have to admit, it was really funny!) But they were really nice, and got bottles of water for all of us and also our breakfasts from the staff. They even tried to get us talking to two other westerners who we glimpsed standing in the hallway outside our cabin looking out the window.
In the morning while approaching Hue and getting ready to leave the train, Jane and I went to stand in the hall, and discovered just who those two westerners were - Anne O'Toole and her boyfriend Julien!! Anne used to work with me in Traventec and left a few months after me. I always say Ireland is a small place, but I really didn't think the world was pretty small too!! Mind you, if they hadn't been in the next cabin, we may not have met!
We went for a walk to the old Forbidden City of Hue, and wandered around for ages looking at the different temples and the beautifully restored buildings, and also the many ruins. Some were destroyed during the war and some were just neglected. Later we met up with Anne and Julien for a drink in the DMZ bar, and then headed home for an early night. Next day we were joined by Anne and Julien on a dragon boat cruise to see some of the pagodas and temples that lie close to the banks of the Perfume river. We saw Thien Mu Pagoda, Hon Chen temple, the absolutely beautiful Khai Dinh Tomb and Minh Mang tomb. Afterwards we went to the market for a browse and got nabbed by a nail technician, who did a lovely job on our toes and fingernails! Later I called my cousin Michelle to wish her the best of luck on her wedding day, and also got to talk to my sisters Olivia and Mayri as they were bridesmaids. Very strange for me to miss a big family occasion, but they all had a great day and everything went well!

We had booked a tour of the De-Militarised Zone for the following morning and really didn't know what to expect as we knew very little about the war. It was a really good tour and our guide encouraged questions, which was great cos we learned so much! We now know who was on which side and what the "reasons" for the war were. We visited Hien Luong bridge on the Ben Hai river which was the border between North and South Vietnam, we walked around in the Vinh Moc tunnels which were built not for fighting (there was no fighting on the ground in North Vietnam) but for villagers to carry on with their lives while being bombed from overhead and saw Cua Tung beach. The tunnels were pretty cool, but the living spaces were tiny - about the size of the space underneath your average kitchen table. And there was one per family!

We got a bus to Hoi An that evening and discovered that our hotel had free cocktails every evening from 6.30 to 7.30, and oh look, we'd arrived on time! As some of the first to arrive we got talking to an Aussie woman called Kerrie, whose poor partner Rob was suffering from (un-diagnosed as yet) Gastroenteritis in their room. She'd met several people at cocktail hour the previous evening and so we met Sarah and Tim (a kiwi couple), Katie from Canada, and Kayleigh and Mike from England.
Hoi An is famous for its tailor shops, so late next morning we headed off to find the one that Eimear and Gina recommended. We hadn't realised how long two people could take to decide what they wanted and then what fabrics they would like, so we weren't out of there until close to dinnertime!! Then we got waylaid by a shoe girl - they make made-to-measure shoes there too - and I ordered sandals and Jane ordered knee-high boots. Somehow, after having dinner in a nearby restaurant, we managed to make it back to the hotel on time for cocktail hour - funny that!! There we met another friend of Kerrie's, Lorna, the usual bunch and also met Kerrie's Rob for the first time.

Next day we were off to My Son heritage area to see the ruins of temples in the Cham architecture. Some are almost totally destroyed but some have been restored and are really lovely. Some, like the one in the picture haven't been restored but are in great nick for their age! Afterwards we went to collect our clothes which was a total nightmare for Jane - most of mine only required some further small alterations, but I dunno if the person who made Janes could read the handwriting of the girl who wrote the measurements!! Every one of Jane's clothes needed alteration and most needed serious work!! So off we trotted for the afternoon and came back for the final fit, we thought! Mine were perfect and I could take them away with me, but for some bizarre reason they had completely overdone the required alterations on Jane's! They needed to keep them overnight to sort it out. At the shoe place, they'd made the completely wrong boot for Jane and would have to start all over again. But what a surprise, we got back to the hotel at 6.30 again - I don't know how that happened...
I hadn't intended showing off my new clothes but Kerrie wanted to see them, and Sarah was all up for modelling them for me, so we had our own little fashion parade right there by the pool! Great fun and we lasted long past the end of the free cocktails...

The next morning was Jane's final, final fitting and when we got to the shop we met Yvonne, who'd been at the fashion parade the previous night and we'd given her the directions. She was only too pleased to sit around with us as we waited for everything to be completed rather than brave all the hassling of every person in Hoi An who had something to sell... Afterwards we picked up our shoes and boots, which we were both a little disappointed with and on the way back to our hotel to await the arrival of our overnight bus to Nha Trang, we bumped into Jasper and Sonne again! We only had time for a quick chat unfortunately but it was nice to see them again.

We had a quiet first day in Nha Trang, and just booked a boat trip around the islands and booking our seats on our next bus to Saigon. We met up with Kerrie and Rob for some drinks in the Sailing Club that evening as Rob was beginning to feel better, and before leaving for the evening, gave Kerrie the details of the boat trip we were doing the following day. And yet for some reason we were still shocked when she turned up next morning! Our host for the day was called Loc, but he insisted we called him "Funky Monkey". He was actually a really funny guy and had a few words of Irish for us when making his introductory speech! We stopped at Mun Island for some snorkelling at a coral reef, then went to Bamboo Island for a huge lunch before being entertained by the Nha Trang boy band - the crew of the boat! Very funny indeed - I never thought I'd see the day when I would be dancing on a dance floor in my bikini!! The funniest part of it was that the distance from the dancefloor to the ceiling of the boat was only about 5 foot, so every one of us had bent necks or worse!! Later we had a floating bar, which was a mad contraption consisting of a metal ring around a float where the barman sat with two buckets of cocktails, and we all hung on to the metal ring while floating in rubber rings around the bar.
Afterwards we went to Tam Island where Jane did some parasailing. We'd met a lovely Vietnamese couple called Thanh and Tiffany (she lives in America) who tried some jetskiing and so Jane and Kerrie decided to give it a go too! After Tam Island we went to the aquarium which has loads of really big fish in really small tanks - not the nicest place in the world... And then we went back to the mainland. We met up with Kerrie and Rob for dinner again and we planned a trip to the mud baths for the following day. Next morning they called to our hotel and we headed off on our spa day... It was great fun, and we bumped into Thanh and Tiffany again! We spent ages in the mud, then the mineral spa, then had lunch and went for massages. I had gotten burnt on my back while snorkelling the previous day so the massage was a really bad idea - they walked up and down our spines!!! Crazy people... Bones did crack though, so I guess it must have done some good though I couldn't tell through the pain!!!

That evening we got another overnight bus, this time to Saigon. We checked into a hotel and went for breakfast - bumping into Anne and Julien again! They were off on a trip on the Mekong Delta and were off to Cambodia a couple of days later. Later I went to the market to buy some gifts for my family, and we'd another early night cos you just don't sleep very well on those overnight buses.

We went to see a Cao Dai temple north west of Saigon, which was a beautiful building and we were there on time to see their noon service which was supposed to be really colourful as different people wear different colours, but about 95% of the congregation were in white that day! Ah well... Afterwards we went to see the Cu Chi tunnels which are the ones that were used for fighting. We watched a propaganda film and many different types of traps were demonstrated to us before we descended into the tunnel. They have widened them to allow westerners access to them, but they were still really tight!! There are several exits along the route the guide brought us and as it really is quite claustrophic, only 4 managed to complete the route - Jane and I included! We were very proud, despite the dirt! Back in the city later, we bumped into Julien and Anne again, and said goodbye to them as they were off to Cambodia early the following morning.

Next day was our last in Saigon, so we spent the morning re-organising our Thailand/Laos plans, and ended up cutting Laos completely. We're disappointed but we just didn't have time to do both - so if anyone fancies financing a holiday for either of us next year, you know where'd be a good destination!! Afterwards we went to the market again so Jane could buy some gifts (and I could attempt the unlikely and find the stall I'd accidentally left something behind at the last day!). Later we went to the post office and sent home parcels - twice, in my case!!

The next day we were off on a cruise of the mekong delta, before saying goodbye to Vietnam and crossing the border into Cambodia...

Wednesday, November 1

Location: Melbourne
Miles Travelled: 28189
Time Zone: GMT + 11:00

Today we started our final bus tour with Dennis,Marijke and Cindy. It was the Great Ocean Road and the Grampians Tour. We got collected from our hostel and headed straight out of Adelaide. After some morning tea enroute we stopped to view Mitre Rock and Mount Arapiles before heading for lunch in Natimuk. After lunch we went to see the Mackenzie Falls which were well worth the rather steep walk down to them. We then arrived in the Grampians and went to see the Balconies (which are large pieces of rock which look like balconies coming out of the side of a hill) and got to check out the view from Reids Lookout. The view was amazing and looked like something out of a story book with miles and miles of rolling hills and valleys. Then it was off to Halls Gap where we were to stay for the night. We checked into our rooms and feasted on lots and lots of meat (or salad in Angs case) and then had a few drinks and played some cards before heading to bed. We got to know alot of our group who were great: Bob and Trish from Norfolk, Tara and Jacque from Canada, Lolly from England and Tim from Germany. The next morning it was up and straight off for a walk up Mount William Summit. The walk was painful to say the least as it was extremely uphill and the top never seemed to get any closer - however once we made it the view was again spectacular as we were on the highest point in the Grampians and could see everything. This is where our lovely group photo was taken. For lunch we went to Tower Hill where we were surrounded by wildlife, Koalas were in almost every tree and there were a couple of Emu's just wandering around as well as several lizards - it was brilliant to see all these animals just hanging around. After lunch it was on to several grogeous parts of the coastline: Bay of Islands, Bay of Martyrs and The Grotto. We arrived in Port Campbell just in time to dump our stuff and head out to the Twelve Apostles for Sunset. The sunset was lovely although the wind was freezing. The next day was our final day on the trip. We went to see LochArd Gorge and Cemetry before going on a helicopter ride over the Twelve Apostles which was brilliant as neither of us had been in a helicopter before and we loved it! There were two more scenic stops at Gibsons Steps and Maits Rest before we went to the rainforest for a little wander before lunch in Apollo Bay. We then headed to Cape Patin Lookout which gave amazing views of the Great Ocean Road coastline. We stopped at another similar lookout and performed a community service by cleaning a defaced Koala sign, well actually Cindy cleaned it but we did offer great support. Our next stop was Bells Beach, famous for being used in Point Break. We then headed sleepily into Melbourne. Once we'd all gotten sorted in our various hostels we all met up again for a few end of tour drinks and to celebrate Jacques birthday. It was good night out although we did struggle to find anywhere that stayed open late!!
The next day we had arranged to meet up Jacques, Tara and Lolly for some sun worshipping on St. Kilda beach. The beach was lovely although we stuck to the grass nearby and spent a few hours chilling out in the sun - it was lovely. After that we headed back into town and on our way to the hostel we bumped into Brian Cantwell (a university class mate!!) which was crazy. We did know he was in Melbourne but the chances of physically bumping in to him are hige so it was a bit of a shock for all concerned. Brian was off to Noosa for a long weeked to compete in a Triathalon so the only night he had free was that night. We had made plans to do the table quiz on our hostel that night with Dennis and Marijke so Brian came along. The quiz didn't go too well but we had a good night catching up with all the news. The next day we spent a whopping 4 hours in the hostel sorting out photos and burning them on Cindy's laptop. It was Cindys last night in Melbourne and with us so we all headed out for the evening to the cinema to see The Departed. The next morning it was up bright and early to go to the Immigration Museum with Cindy, Dennis and Marijke. The museum was huge and full of info on how Australia came to be. After the Museum we headed back to the hostel for lunch and to say farewell to Cindy who was heading to Sydney to stay with Odie and Scott! The four of us then jumped on the free city circle tram for a spin round the city to give us a feel for what there was to see. That night Julie and Joanne were arriving for the weekend and so we waited for them before heading for a few drinks. The next day Ang, I and Marijke headed to Melbourne Museum which we thought would take about 2 hours to see...ha ha. We ended up in there for 5 hours and only left as they closed. It was a great museum with tonnes to see. That night we all headed out to St. Kilda to the Elephant and Wheelbarrow. There was a live band on and we all had a great night. Tim even came along too as it was just around the corner from his hostel! Oh and we also found 2 guys taller than Dennis...almost a foot taller and that would make them over 7 foot....yikes! The next day we headed to the Old Melbourne Gaol for the free weekly show about Ned Kelly. The show and Gaol were both really interesting and kinda chilling as you got to stand right beside the gallows where so many were hanged! After the Gaol we went for a bit of a wander and I finally bought a backpack. We headed out for dinner and to the IMAX that hnight to see Ant Bully in 3D which was brilliant. 3D movies are definetly the way to go! We met back up with Julie and Joanne and headed to the Crown Casino and then to Chapel street that night. The next morning we headed to watch Ireland v Australia in the International rules, luckily Ireland won! After the game we went for a little wander through Victoria Markets which were great and full of goodies which alas we couldn't buy due to space shortages in our bags! That evening we just hung around in the hostel bar playing pictionary which was great fun.
After saying farewell to Julie and Joanne the next morning we were up and away on a Philip Island Penguin Parade day tour with Dennis and Marijke. On the way to the Penguin Parade itself we got to see lots of stuff including the Maru Wildlife Park. In the park we got to feed Kangaroos and Wallabies and see Wombnats and Tasmanian Devils as well as lots of birds,Koalas, Emus, Dingos and even Alpacas. We had lunch there before heading off and going to see Woolami beach and the Nobbies before going to the Penguin Parade. Although it was pretty chilly it was well worth the wait to see all the little penguins coming in from the sea and wobbling their way up to their homes - it was fantastic. The parade went on until 9ish so once we got back to Melbourne it was late and so we all hit the hay as the next day was our last full day in Melbourne and Australia.
As it was Halloween Ang and I decided to get into the mood and after having brekkie next door we headed to a shop near the market and got ourselves some costumes. Due to a very restricted budget and item choice we ended choosing some tinsel wigs and coordinated inflatable guitars...obviously we were going to be punk rockers. Shelina popped round to the hostel in the afternoon for a catch up as we hadn't seen her since we'd gotten to Melbourne. It was lovely to see her and to find out that she'd gotten a job and found somewhere to live which was great. That evening Ang, Dennis, Marijke and I went out for dinner as it was our last night together and in Oz. The dinner was fab and we all rolled back to the hostel to get costumed up and join in the mayhem that was the bar. Brian who managed to not only survive but finish the Triathalon managed to make it for a few drinks too and got caught up in the halloween vibe. It was a great night and a fab one to end on in Oz. The next morning we all got packed up had brekkie once we'd checked out. Ang and I headed to the post office and the pharmacy before heading back and saying farewell to Dennis and Marijke who were heading home.
It was sad to say goodbye but hopefully we will get to see them in Amsterdam sometime! After our farewells we headed to an internet cafe to do our blog...alas we ran out of time and so only got halfway before having to dash off to get to the airport and catch out flight. So I'm only getting to finish the Melbourne blog now but thats it complete. All our Oz adventures were great but it was time for us to move on.

Location: Melbourne
Miles Travelled: 28189
Time Zone: GMT + 11

Since we last updated in Alice Springs, we've travelled many many
miles and met loads of new people! The morning we left the Alice we
went to see the Joeys at the Joey Rescue centre next to our hostel.
Amazing little place... In the same way that hedgehogs, badgers and
foxes are always getting squished on Irish roads, kangaroos are always
getting killed on roads here in Australia. The only difference between
the animals in Ireland and the ones here is that a dead kangaroo
often has a live joey in her pouch! This particular rescue centre was
all about getting people aware of this fact and getting them to stop
and check for live joeys whenever they see recently killed kangaroos
on the roads, then bring them to rescue centres like this. When we visited, there were 5 joeys in the centre - 4 little red kangaroos in a basket, and one Euro kangaroo wandering around a little paddock on her own. As we were to learn, Euro
kangaroos are fighting creatures so little Emily had to play by
herself all the time, otherwise she'd attack the other 4. The
development of the joey is amazing, they're so tiny when they first
have to climb up into the pouch, I dunno how they do it!

That afternoon we boarded our bus trip to Adelaide, via King's Canyon,
Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Coober Pedy. In Erldunda, a couple of hundred
kilometres outside Alice Springs (ie. the real middle of nowhere!) we
stopped for petrol and beer supplies for the week, and naturally
enough we bumped into people we knew!! Two of the guys from our dive
course, Tom and Alex, were on their way to the Alice after touring
through the red centre. We carried on to a campsite near King's
Canyon, stopping along the way to pick up firewood for the night
(splinters galore!) and to photograph some of the many feral camels
along the roads. When we got to camp, we rolled out our swags, started
a campfire and prepared dinner. Then spent the night getting to know
each other by playing the igenious "Name Game" - "My name is Ang and I
like Apples" kindof thing. It definitely helped remember names, though
sometimes it was easier remember the food!
On our bus we had Sandy who likes Sausages, Julie who likes Jelly Tots, Julie who likes Jelly Tots, Rei who likes Rice, Jana who likes Juice, Aoife who likes Avocado, Jordanna who likes Jocks, Chris who likes Cock, Laurent who likes Lettuce, Marijke who likes Melon, Cindy who likes Chocolate, Wonsoon who likes Watermelon, Julia who likes Jam, Michiyo who likes Money, Yuri who likes Yoghurt, Dennis who likes Diet Coke, Shohei who likes Spaghetti, Ang who likes Apples, Jane who likes Jelly Babies and Joanne who likes Jelly Beans.

We were up pretty early the next morning in order to have our 6.6km
hike finished before it got too hot - not something we'd be used to
from home! Absolutely beautiful scenery in King's Canyon... We stopped
for a swim at the Garden of Eden waterhole, but only Julie was brave
enough to get into the cold cold water. We had lunch and a dip in the campsite's pool before hitting the road for Yulara, Uluru's (Ayer's Rock) resort town. Along the way we had our first sighting of Uluru,
or so we thought - Mt Connor is another big red thing in the middle of nowhere but it definitely isn't The Rock! We got to Uluru on time to watch sunset and the changing colours. For some reason we just weren't destined to have good sunsets or sunrises for the duration of our trip - we were in the middle of a desert and yet it was the cloudiest week ever!!

The next day was our chance to either do a base walk of Uluru or to
climb to the top. As the climb is sacred to the Aboriginal people and
they ask tourists to respect their traditions by not climbing it, Jane
and I had made the decision to do the base walk instead. So we were
not disappointed when we arrived there and the climb had been closed
due to high winds! Later it was closed because the temperature was
predicted to be above 35 degrees for the day! The base walk is absolutely lovely and at 10km long, we got a great work-out. We
visited a cultural centre nearby too, and watched some film of aboriginal dances. We had another disappointing sunset that evening, but got some lovely group photos!

Up early next morning to go see sunrise colour Uluru and Kata Tjuta and then went for a hike around Kata Tjuta - we got the option of doing an extra few kilometres or heading back the way we'd come so I, being the risk taker, headed off on the extra bit - luckily several other people joined me in the end. Amazing views, absolutely the best bit of the day... Even better views than at Uluru, I think.
Afterwards we had lunch at our campsite before packing up and hitting
the high road to ... nowhere! As this was our last night before
staying in a town, our driver gave us the option of staying at a
campsite near a roadhouse or camping in the bush. We chose the bush.
Great fun, absolutely nothing in sight except the road we arrived on,
and our bus. And as per usual on this tour, we had a cloudy night and
couldn't even see the stars like we'd hoped!!! The other thing we were
missing were some toilets, so the girls' toilets were in the middle of
the road, hidden from the campers by the bus, and the boys got to
wander off into the middle of nowhere and try not to get bitten by any
weird creatures in the dark!

The following morning we headed to Cooper Pedy - a town that surely
owns the name "Weirdest Place on Earth"??! Crazy town... It's really
isolated (6 hours to the nearest decent sized town, Port Augusta), and
if I lived there I think I'd go stir-crazy myself! When we got there
we did a tour around the town and then watched a video about the
history of Opal mining in the town. We got to look around one of the
dugouts (proper houses, but totally carved out of the rock) and an old
mine and then checked into our hostel - where we slept under I dunno
how many feet of rock in a dugout of our own! If you've seen the film
"Pitch Black" or any of the "Mad Max" films then you might know the
next landscape we visited - "The Breakaways". It is exactly how you'd
expect the moon surface to look. That night we spent several hours in
"The Underground Bar" and then a few hardy souls (Jane, Julie, Joanne,
Chris, Julia and I) went to "The United Club" for a few more drinks
and a few games of pool. We were very kindly brought there by a local
guy called Simon, who also drove us home that night. The most bizarre
experience ever - he needed petrol on the way home, but as the car was
(slightly!) overloaded he was a bit worried about getting caught by
the cops so he made a phone call first. To his housemate - the local

We spent all of the following day getting to Adelaide, passing the
turnoff to the Clare Valley and then through a town called Dublin on
the way! Only 43kms from home, and yet so far!! That night we went out
with what was left of the bus crew (one girl had gotten straight on a
bus to Melbourne when she arrived in Adelaide, then onto a flight to
Brisbane from there and a bus to Rainbow Beach to get a trip to Fraser
Island!!!), only to discover that Sunday nights in Adelaide are not
very busy... We ended up having one or two drinks and then the only
pub we'd found that was open, closed!

The next day we had a nice relaxing time, sitting on the balcony of the hostel, drinking tea and chatting with Marijke, Dennis, Cindy and Laurent whenever they passed through. We also attempted and failed to find the Holy Grail - a white wash that doesn't leave the clothes still looking grubby!! We topped off our nice quiet day by having dinner in Nando's (my first introduction to their food had been in Airlie Beach via Kai from our Whitsundays boat) and then going to the cinema - making poor Dennis be the only guy at a really girlie film, Step Up! Afterwards Laurent joined us for a drink in one of the many bars he'd discovered earlier that day with a friend he'd bumped into in Adelaide!

The following day was very exciting for us because it was Shelina's birthday and she was coming to Adelaide to meet up with us! So we went off to the shop and bought a cake, some balloons and a little present for her and then awaited her arrival. So we had a lovely healthy lunch on the balcony and then a mini-birthday party! As Laurent was leaving that afternoon we joined him in a couple of drinks and then went to Glenelg for Shelina's birthday dinner and to meet a Dullaghan family friend (and relation!) Anthony, and his other half, Rebecca. We had a great night chatting with them in the most un-Irish of Irish bars, The Dublin.

Anthony picked us up for a lovely breakfast bbq at their house the following morning and brought us for a spin around the countryside. We went to Hahndorf, a lovely German village, for tea and some Beesting cake and then visited a couple of wineries, Nepenthe and D'Arrenberg, for a little sample of their wares... Neither Jane nor I had ever had a Sparkling Red Wine before but it's surprisingly refreshing, so we bought a bottle to enjoy with our new sisters (Rebecca and her sister Rachel) at Anthony and Rebecca's that evening - Anthony had to go to work, poor guy! We had an early start the following day so we didn't stay too late (though probably late enough for Rebecca!), and the girls dropped us back into town.

Next morning we were off to the Barossa Valley for a day tour of the wineries there, visiting a lovely little wooden toy factory and the World's biggest Rocking Horse along the way. We also stopped at the Whispering Dam, which has brilliant sound effects - I went to the far end of the dam and when I got there I could hear Jane and Shelina saying hello to me, even though I could see how far away they were - it sounds like it's coming out of the wall! We visited Jacob's Creek, the Vine Crest winery, Richmond Grove and Bethany winery, then had ice-cream in Tanunda village and headed back into Adelaide. We'd arranged with our Alice bus group to meet up for a table quiz in The Elephant that evening so there was a big bunch of us but we were still rubbish at trivia!! Afterwards, the hardy few headed for PJ O'Briens (where the lovely Charlie Angels take off photo was taken!) for another few drinks which, given the size of the hangover I had for the next few days, we probably could have done without!!

Jane wasn't feeling well the next day (or afternoon when I finally staggered out of bed!), so Chris, Shelina and I all headed off to Haigh's Chocolate factory for our pre-booked tour. Yummy chocolate... Afterwards I went to Plympton to meet Anthony & Rebecca again, but this time with Rebecca's two lovely little boys, Ryan and Bradley. Ryan drew me a lovely picture with me as a princess-like character and him as the good knight, so I'm keeping that nice and safe!! We all went for dinner in Glenelg at the Marina, and Rebecca's parents Steve and Marg joined us too. It was really nice to meet them all just before we left but Rebecca and I have decided that their honeymoon will be in Ireland, so maybe it won't be too long til we meet again!! Afterwards I dropped in to The Strand to meet Julie, Joanne and Chris as it was Chris' last night in Australia. Due to the hangover, as soon as I walked in the door I realised I couldn't face the thought of another drink, and didn't stay very long! So it was home for a nice long recovering sleep, in preparation for the next part of our trip - the Great Ocean Road tour...

Monday, October 9

Location: Alice Springs
Miles Travelled: 26337
Time Zone: GMT + 8:30

So it was time to leave Byron Bay and head to Arrawarra and Surf Camp. We all boarded the bus in Byron a little excited about trying surfing so it was straight to surf camp and once we'd gotten our rooms sorted it was straight into a quick surf safety lesson before we got suited up in very fetching wetsuits and grabbed our boards and headed for the beach. Once on the beach we were shown firstly how to paddle and when to paddle and then it was on to the hard part! The how to go from lying on the board to standing on the board in a nice smooth movement, or not so smooth in my case. Once we practiced it a few times on the nice solid beach it was off into the waves to try it for real. It was great fun although not very successful. I managed to stand once in our nearly 2 hour session but I did do alot of almost standing and lots and lots of tumbling off into the water and a few nose dives too...ouch! Once we'd finished our lesson it was back to the camp ground and time for dinner and drinks and some after dinner games. To be precise an after dinner quiz which unfortunetly our team lost which meant we had to do all the wash-up and cleaning after the dinner - that wasn't so much fun. But the rest of the night was cool...sitting round the camp fire chatting and then once the camp ground's curfew kicked in we moved ourselves and the fire (literally in a wheelbarrow!) down to the beach which was fabulous...just sitting on the beach in the pitch black listening to the sea and watching the was a great night. The next morning it was up early and as soon as brekkie was eaten it was back into our still wet wetsuits and back down to the beach for some warm up's before hitting the water again. I would like to say the second day was much better but alas it was only a tiny bit better for me as I still only managed to stand once but I did have alot more almost standing moments and no nose dives!! Once we'd done our 2 hours surfing we all climbed back onto the bus tired and slightly sore (or maybe that was just me) and headed for our next stop in Barrington.

Our stop in Barrington was the most remote stop we'd had so far...on a farmstay in the outback about 40 minutes from anywhere. When we arrived there was an option to go night kayaking which we didn't bother doing cos we were both wrecked so instead we chilled out in the main building where we indulged in $10 all you can eat pizza. The night would have been a bit of a disaster if it wasn't for a very kind man by the name of Roger who volunteered to drive some of us to the off licence so that we could all buy a few drinks for the night. It was our last night on the Oz Experience trip and we all wanted a decent send-off so he was our saviour as well as Ang and Tracey who made the hour and a bit round trip for the rest of us! Once the kayaking was over everyone sat around the fire or in the hot tub and relaxed until the wee small hours. It was a lovely way to spend our last night. The next morning we got up and hit the road for our final destination on the Oz Experience - Sydney.

We had alot of road to cover so it was pretty much a full day of driving in the hope we'd get into Sydney early and catch the end of the AFL final which was on that day. We hit Sydney at around 4 and thanks to our fabulous bus driver we got dropped off right beside where we were staying. Odie, a friend of Ang's from home had thankfully come to our rescue and offered us somewhere to stay for our first few nights in Sydney as our original plan to stay with Big Dave had gone a bit wrong cos Dave was actually away the weekend we arrived. But I have to say a better pair of hosts I have never met than Odie and his flatmate Scott(and fellow squatter Trevor!) who made us feel so at home straight away that infact we ended up staying with them for our whole stay in Sydney - thanks again guys! Our bus driver had organised dinner and drinks that night as a final send-off so we headed out to The Gaff on Oxford street to meet up with everyone and say our farewells. It was a great night with many a laugh and the invention of a new dance move in honour of our driver Pistol Pete - it mimics someone kayaking and then falling out - which apparently he did alot of at Barrington!! The next day we had arranged to meet up with Nicole whom we had met on the Oz experience further north and whose last day it was in Sydney.
She brought us down to The Rocks for lunch and then we headed towards Circular Quay from where we got our first real glance of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge which was pretty amazing. I kept finding myself thinking - God I'm really in Sydney - and then having to try and make myself believe it! From there we walked round to the Opera House itself and took several million photos of the surroundings which are more than impressive. Nicole had to head back so we walked her to the station and then wandered back to the apartment for the evening. The next morning Scott (who had won big at the weekend) brought everyone for Yum Cha (chinese brekkie) which was yummy. We had another bus pal to meet that evening and that was Jeremy who was leaving Syndey that night. We met up with him and headed out for dinner and a drink in Scruffy Murphys. After that we walked him to the station and waved him off...another bus pal gone...sniff sniff. The next day we had a very lazy start and chilled out in front of the very huge telly for a few hours before heading out and picking up a dvd of photos our bus driver had kindly left for us at the office. The photos were cool as there are a few of us surfing which we didn't have any of. That evening it was off out again this time to meet up with Big Dave in the Opera Bar by the Opera House. The bar has amazing views but was a little pricey for us backpackers so after admiring the views and taking some photos we moved on to The Basement bar for another drink before heading to PJ O'Briens where we were joined by Odie and grabbed some dinner. Dave left early due to having a 6am start the next morning but we stayed on and were soon joined by Scott. Odie also headed home but Scott, Ang and I kept going and once PJ's closed we headed homeward but enroute popped into The 3 Wise Monkeys for just one more before we retired. It was a really fun night out.
Due to our activities the previous night the next morning was another slow burner. We needed to get to Kings Cross to collect a box which we were going to fill with stuff and ship home. Scott eventually offered us a lift cos he figured we'd never have made it otherwise and he was probably right (the couch was far too comfy!). So we grabbed our box and then headed home and started to get ready for a pub quiz that night in Durty Nellys. Scott and Trevor had won it 3 times before and so the pressure was on for Ang and I to help in retaining the crown. Luckily they didn't need much help from us to retain the crown and we won the quiz and have the gold medals to prove it. After the quiz we headed to PJ's again to meet up with Odie, Ash and Jack for a few drinks. After PJ's closed we again headed homeward but this time got distracted by Cheers where we went for one more before finally getting home.
The next day we got up and headed to catch the ferry to Manly Beach. The ferry ride itself was so beautiful as you got to see the harbour in all its splendour so I was happy out with just that. Once we landed in Manly we strolled down the Corso towards the main beach and of course did some souvenir shopping on the way. When we got to the beach it was a little windy but we did lie down on the sand and admire the scenary for awhile before heading back towards the ferry. We caught the ferry just before sunset so on our return to Circular Quay we got to watch the sun go down behind the bridge which was brilliant. We headed home where there were big bbq plans afoot. Trevor (who was also only visiting the apartment) had spent all afternoon preparing a mountain of food for a bbq. After some initial fire lighting issues were solved (the solution involved tequila!) the bbq was underway. Odie's girlfriend Ash and her friend Jack were there and Big Dave came along too. The food was fabulous and the only casualty was the chicken which was slightly cremated. The bbq was great and once the food was gone we sat round the bbq campfire styley and had a natter and a few drinks before retiring inside for some movie watching.
The next day was our last day in Sydney so we tried to fit a few things in, firstly we headed to Wildlife World in Darling Harbour. Darling Harbour itself was lovely and Wildlife World was pretty cool but a little disappointing. Although Ang did get to see a Bilby which she was convinced was make believe! After that we headed home and finished the packing of our box which we needed to drop off and thankfully Scott was on hand again to offer us a much needed lift. We got the box shipped finally and headed home for some dinner before hitting the town for the final time. Trevor was gone out in Bondi and poor Odie was feeling really ill (so ill in fact that he ended up in hospital that night but thankfully is on the mend now - get well soon!) so it was just Scott, Ang and I who headed out. Our first stop was the Shangri-La bar which is on the 36th floor and gives great views out over Sydney. After that is was on to The Australian Bar (apparently the oldest bar in Sydney) for a few more before hitting our final bar of the evening The Mercantile. It was another great night in Sydney, we had a fantastic week in Sydney and neither of us wanted to leave but alas flights and tours wait for no woman! We'd like yet again to thank our hosts with the most Odie and Scott - thanks a million.

The next day we were up early to get packed up and off to the airport to catch our flight to Alice Springs. The flight was about 3 hours and flew over what looked like waste ground which was kinda weird having been on the coast for the past month. We landed and immediately the difference in weather was obvious...its was 35 and very very dry. We got a bus to our hostel and checked in and chilled out for awhiel before heading to the bar for dinner. After dinner we took a walk down town and ended up going to the cinema to see "Thank You for Smoking" which was good.
Yesterday we went online and started this mammoth update of the blog and then wandered round the town (which isn't very bigg) and then headed for dinner and watched some tv. Today we went to the Royal Flying Doctors base here which was cool. We got to see the communications rooms and learn how the whole thing started. It was really enjoyable. And that brings us right up to now.

Location: Alice Springs
Miles Travelled: 26337
Time Zone: GMT + 8:30

Kroombit is a remote inland cattle station somewhere between Airlie Beach and Hervey Bay where we were to learn some of the tricks of the jackaroos! After checking in, dumping our stuff into a dorm that looked awfully like an old stable, and having dinner we had our first learning experience - cracking a whip! I always thought the noise of the whip cracking was from it hitting the ground, but it's actually the sound of it breaking the sound barrier! You have to make it reverse direction at speed for this to happen, and I'm afraid I was a bit rubbish... The girl who was showing us what to do told me she could hear it, but I'm sure she was just being nice! After the whip debacle we had low expectations for the next event - the bucking bronco! The deal was that each person had a chance to qualify for the 2nd round by completing an 8 second preliminary round, which consisted of 4 seconds bucking followed by 4 seconds bucking and turning. I'm sure you've all seen people attempting to do this, and wondered why they're finding it so difficult, when it looks so easy? When you can't even get on the bronco without help in the first place, it definitely ain't easy!! Both Jane and I struggled to get on the damn thing (it's not cos we're short, honest!!) and had to be given a leg up by the guy running it. It's not that Jane usually has problems with her balance or anything, but her leg up provided us all with great amusement - she went clear off the other side!! And then when she did get on, like a lot of the competitors she lasted about one second before hitting the ground again (it was actually a big blow up ground, but anyway). I seemed to have found something I'm actually good at finally, and managed to qualify for the second round (after a re-try cos my helmet was falling over my eyes and I used my free hand to push it back, which is against the rules). Because of my re-try I got to go last in the final and had to beat the top score of 38 bucks to win. According to Jane, (and the video she made of the event!) Shelina got so into it that at 30 bucks she was on her feet cheering me on and roaring at the top of her lungs (while Jane struggled to hold the camera steady!)! Amazingly I made it to 40 bucks (as Jane and Shelina had jokingly requested beforehand!) before falling off face first. My prize was a free can of beer - and a whole lot of friction burns and bruising...

The next morning Jane and I went for my very first horseride which involved us riding around after a herd of goats, rounding them up and putting them into an enclosure. Jane's horse was pretty good but mine was the laziest thing on the planet!! It refused to do anything I wanted it to, the stubborn thing. After our goat muster, the whole bus group went back to the goat enclosure and practiced our lassoing - not my forte either! Jane did well, lassoing her goat pretty quickly but let's just say that the photos of my attempt are slightly posed... Afterwards we had to do a pretend goat branding in teams of three - this involved catching a goat, turning it onto it's side on the ground and then touching it's hip with a cold brand. Team Ireland (us and Shelina, our used-to-be-Canadian friend) even managed to be in the lead until the last competitors when Team Switzerland (Nicole and some non-Swiss people) won by miles! Team Asia were the funniest by far as Maiko, Chiaki and Skyla nearly ended up being chased by the goat instead of the other way around!!
After lunch we hit the road for Hervey Bay where we met up with Darren, Ken and Trevor for a drink and to recount just exactly how drunk Trevor and Darren had been on the last night in Airlie Beach!! Much fun and entertainment!

On Fraser Island the next day, we were doing a guided tour and we had a very interesting guide called Chris whose previous employment had been as a snake-catcher! How many people with that occupation are you likely to meet in a lifetime? He took us to Basin Lake then we had a picnic lunch at Central Station (the old logging station) where Chris found us a Redback spider and a stick insect to take lots of pictures of. There was also a monitor lizard nearby, for more photos. After lunch we went to Lake Mackenzie for a swim and sunbathe, followed by tea and chocolate muffins! Then off to our accommodation just in time for an absolute downpour!! We had dinner in the Dingo Bar that night and then followed that with pitchers of beer and cocktails.

Next day we drove along 75 mile beach to the wreck of the Mahino and to the Pinnacles, then on to the Champagne pools for a dip. Afterwards we had lunch near Indian Head, then climbed to the edge and watched turtles, sharks and huge schools of fish in the clear water. We even bumped into Trevor, Ken and Darren again on the headland. Off then to Eli Creek to make friends with an eel who loves chocolate biscuits, and then to Stonetool Sand Blow for a few photos before heading back to the ferry and going for a few farewell drinks in Hervey Bay with the girls from our bus as we were not continuing all the way to Brisbane with them the following day.

The next morning we stopped in Rainbow Beach to learn to throw a Boomerang, and we also learned how to play the Didgeridoo - now we're experts, honest! We left the bus in Noosa and spent 4 happy nights doing pretty much nothing in the very laid back surfing town. Shelina joined us the day after we arrived, so we had a lovely night drinking pitchers of the evil snakebite and talking absolute rubbish. Jane and I went to Steve Irwin's Australia Zoo on our last full day there, and it's a really great place. We got to rub a Koala, and feed Kangaroos, we watched some tortoises getting fed and saw all sorts of animals and reptiles including of course the famous Crocodile show in the Crocoseum. A really good day! As it was the day after Steve's memorial service, there were so many tributes around the perimeter of the zoo - it was really quite moving.

On our last morning in Noosa we finally booked all our onward travel from Sydney, so at least we then knew where we were off to next! On the bus we were delighted to meet up with a friend from the first part of the bus tour, Helen, who as usual referred to each of us as simply "Irish" - she does that for everyone, so for two days we didn't know what else to call the guy she only called "America"! That night we went to the DownUnder Bar in Brisbane to watch some rugby match that nobody really had any interest in except our bus driver, but it was a good excuse to meet up.

I'd woken up with a crick in my neck the previous morning so the first thing I did in Brisbane was find myself somewhere to get it massaged away before I went even madder than usual! Afterwards we spent the afternoon wandering around town doing some shopping. We went looking for a market that was supposed to be on, but there was no sign, so we had a lovely walk along the river bank instead. That night Jane and Shelina went out with the bus gang again, and I stayed in and finished updating my New Zealand travel journal - you hardly thought it was just the blog that I'm hopeless at keeping updated, did you?

There was a market and fair on in the South Bank the next day (as Shelina discovered on her early morning run - crazy woman!) so we took the train across and watched a couple of acoustic gigs, and wandered through the market before meeting Trevor and Ken who were, surprisingly enough, in a pub - but to be fair, it was their last day in Oz, poor guys! We all headed back to our hostel and went for dinner, drinks and pool-playing in the bar attached. Then went into town for a few more drinks. It was a pretty late night and we suffered the next day, only getting up to say goodbye to the lads before heading back to bed until the afternoon... Then we went into town and did some souvenir shopping and on our way home we spotted that "The Wind That Shakes The Barley" was on in the cinema, so we dragged Shelina and JaneE along to that, just to complete their Irish education, you understand! It's really, really good.

The next day we set off for Byron Bay, and did some Zorbing enroute - something we'd wanted to try in New Zealand but hadn't had time. Basically it's a big blow-up ball filled with water, three people are thrown in and then it's pushed down a hill! You get thrown around like in a washing machine - good fun! We passed through Surfer's Paradise on the way but due to our late start (some people were told the wrong time) we didn't have time to do anything except pick up more people there. In Byron Bay we had lunch with Shelina and Kieran (the cowboy from our bus), then headed home for a nap only to meet up with Shelina, John, Kunal, Jeremy (America) and Kieran again later in a cafe for a natter.

Shelina was off to Melbourne the next day so we met up for breakfast, and while waiting for her bus, bumped into Darren again! He was waiting to get picked up for a ski-dive. Shelina went on her way, with lots of promises to stay in touch and threats to meet up again on our travels, and we went off to do a dive at Julian Rocks. We got all geared up and we were in the boat on our way to the dive site when we had to turn back because of a lightning storm - it's too dangerous for the poor guy left on the boat! On attempt two we had a great time, seeing several really huge bull rays and 3 or 4 giant turtles! One was so big both Jane and I could have fit into his shell! It was a really good dive... The funny thing is that at this point we thought we only knew one person in Sydney (Jane's friend Dave) and there was a guy on the dive with us who knew him too! I knew Ireland was small, but Australia...?

Sunday, October 8

Location: Alice Springs
Miles Travelled: 26337
Time Zone: GMT + 8:30

We arrived in Cairns after a very very early start and so just checked into our hostel, went shopping for a few essentials, grabbed some food and a nap and then headed for our free dinner in the Woolshed. After some bad news the next morning we decided to keep busy and so headed into town to book ourselves on a diving course. We choose to do the 4 day Open Water PADI diving course with Down Under Dive which was due to start on the Friday. After voicing my concerns over the fact that my left arm was still totally messed up after my pavement diving we felt reasonably confident it would all go ok. After booking our diving course we continued on and booked onto the Oz Experience Cairns to Sydney route for the following week. After all this organisation we were drained both mentally and financially so it was off for a free feed in the Woolshed again and some very silly film watching in the form of Snakes on a Plane.The next day we enjoyed a late start and decided to wander round Cairns for the afternoon and ended our day with dinner in the Night Markets. The next morning was the start of our dive course at 7am so an early night was in order. Day 1 of the course was pretty tense cos we have a medical and a swim test which both me and Ang were dreading. Thankfully the medical went fine and I even managed to find out that I have torn the deltoid muscle in my arm! After the medical it was class time until lunch and then it was the swim test. First off we had to thread water for 10 minutes, Ang and I decided to mainly float for the 10 minutes...hee hee...but it was allowed and so we survived that. Due to my arm I was allowed to do the lap swimming test wearing a snorkel and fins (thank god) and managed to do the 12 laps required which I was thrilled about. Ang also managed to do hers and we were very relieved. After our tests we got to try on the diving equipment and breathed underwater for the first time which was mad. After the day we were exhausted and headed home to do our homework and study for our theory exam the next day. Day 2 started in the pool for more skills and manouvres and then it was our final class before the test. Ang, Helen and I all managed to get full marks in our test so were well chuffed and thankfully no-one in our class failed. That evening we went to Reef Teach which is a show run by a crazy Irish guy who is beyond passionate about marine life and educated us on the various fish families and reef types we were likely to see the following day on our first dive. It was a great show and proved invaluable. The next day it was our first day out on the reef and our first 2 dives and skills tests. The dives went great and the reef is beautiful and full of so many fish its ridiculous. I managed to go snorkelling inbetween dives too which was fab. Day 4 was our final day on the course and we were out on the reef again for 2 more dives and the final of our skills tests. The first dive of the day went fine but both Ang and I had mini-nightmares on our last dive so it wasn't the best but thankfully we both managed to get through it and pass the course - hooray!! Once back on the boat we heard the terrible news about Steve Irwin who we were told was only about 4kms away from where we were diving. That night our instructor had organised for the class to meet up for celebratory dinner and drinks. Dinner was in Rattle and Hum and was yummy and the followed by a trip to the Woolshed where I was introduced to a drink called a Jeigerbomb. It consists of a shot of Jeigermeister dropped into a half glass of RedBull and then downed, it was quiet yummy actually. We had a fantastic night and were really sad to be saying farewell to our dive class and our instructor.
The next day we took a well earned rest and then met up with Katie from our dive class for a wander round the shops where we bumped into 4 other members of the dive class. It was really nice to bump into people you knew when in a strange city. That night we booked onto a Cape Tribulation tour for the following 2 days so it was early t bed and early to rise again. We headed to Cape Tribulation via a wildlife sanctuary where we got to see some Kangaroos, Dingo puppies and a Cassowary called Fruit Loop. Then we crossed the Daintree River on the ferry and went for a walk in a rainforest before being dropped to our hostel. Ang and I then headed off for a walk to Cape Tribulation itself via Myall beach which was gorgeous and almost completely deserted. The next day we headed on a mangrove rainforest walk and then headed in to the Bat House where we got to get up close and personal with a flying fox. While chilling in the hostel waiting for our pick-up we ended up helping with some branch cutting on one of the palm trees and then went on a mini nature hunt round the premises to spot huge spiders and iguanas which was quiet mad.

After being picked up we headed off to do a crocodile cruise on the Daintree River which was fantastic. We spotted 5 crocs including the king of the area Fat Albert who was huge. It was exactly as I had always imagined a crocodile cruise to be and its seldom that things live up to expectations but this really did and I loved it. Following that we headed to Mossman gorge which was really pretty and the onto the Rex range Lookout for a great view and the home via Port Douglas. Our Oz Experience trip was beginning the next day so it was showers packing and bed for our last night in Cairns.
Day 1 of our Oz Experience trip was to Mission beach. Enroute however we did and saw tonnes. We stopped for breakfast at Barron Falls and then at a little town called Malanda for a take-away lunch which we were going to eat at Lake Eacham (a volcanic lake) after doing the circumference walk of the lake. A few brave souls went for a dip in the lake before we got back on the bus and continued on to Millaa Millaa falls (which in Aboriginal literally means Water Water or lots of water!). Then it was on to Innisfail where we went to a Crocodile Farm and watched as the keepers fed some of the resident big crocs - it was great. Then we got a chance to hold a snake - or in my case have one thrown round my shoulders and then have a baby croc landed on my head! Both were surprisingly nice to hold and not at all as you'd expect either to feel. Ang managed to conquer her fear of snakes and also held one which was great. After that we got to go and feed the Kangaroos which was so cute as there were Joey's there too. After the farm it was off to Mission Beach and the hostel. In our dorm room we met 2 girls Shelina and Skyla who we quickly bonded with, in particular Shelina who became our third travel buddy. Our driver Pistol Pete organised for everyone to meet up in the bar for dinner and some drinks which was brilliant as we got to meet everyone on the bus - alot of whom we'd be travelling with for several weeks. I chanced the Kangaroo for my dinner and I have to say it was gorgeous.

Day 2's route was to take us to Magnetic Island, upon leaving Mission Beach we picked up Kati who had been on our dive course which was a great surprise. We headed straight to the ferry that morning and once on Magnetic Island we checked into the hostel. The hostel is amazing and looks like a resort you'd see on travel magazines, wooden decks that run onto the beach, palm trees and amazing views out to sea - I could have stayed there for ages. Once we checked in it was out to sea for some kayaking and then back to the bar for happy hour. We had a fantastic night on Magnetic Island with our bus crew and were sad to be leaving it the next day. Day 3 was going to take us to Airlie beach but before leaving Magnetic Island we went on a walk called the Forts Walk to try and spot some Koalas in the wild. Amazingly we did - well actually Ang spotted them first. We were really lucky as it was a mother Koala and her joey. Later on during the walk someone spotted an Echidna which are pretty rare and hard to see in the wild so it was a real treat. After grabbing a quick lunch back at the hostel we got back on the ferry and headed for Airlie beach. Once we arrived we confirmed our Whitsunday sailing trip for the next day and grabbed dinner and a few drinks in the bar.
Our boat was due to set sail at 1pm so we headed down to the marina after some brekkie, last minute shopping and luggage storing. Once we arrived we were fitted with Stinger suits (lovely full body lycra styley suits that protect against jelly fish stings) and then directed towards our boat - Broomstick. On our boat we had 3 crew (Skipper Rob, Ryan and Alex) and 20 others like ourselves. Once the introductions got started it became evident there were quite a few Irish onboard which was cool as we hadn't really met any Irish people since hitting Oz. The group on the boat were brilliant and we had a great day snorkelling and sailing before dropping anchor for the night. For the evening we had a few drinks, chatted with everyone and played cards. The next day we sailed to Whitehaven. On the walk to the beach we saw a lizard and got to stop at the lookout which gave an amazing view of the beach. We spent about an hour on the beach just chilling and reading and stuff before heading back to the boat. We had lunch there before going for a sail to another snorkelling spot where we saw a ray and Ang spotted a stinger...eeks! The wind was pretty strong so the sailing was pretty exciting especially when the Skipper aborted an attempted switch in direction cos he got a bad feeling! We found a nice sheltered bay to stop in for the night and played random games like Who Am I and I Spy for most of the night and then finished off with the old reliable cards. The next day was our last day on board Broomstick and was spent sailing back to Airlie through what had turned into pretty nasty weather. Strong winds and random showers. We spent alot of the day on the high side of the deck braving the elements and of course I managed to injure myself while getting in to position and lost part of my toenail - nice!! Just when we had thought we were through the worst of it a 45 knot wind caught us and the boat tilted so far that they had to drop the main sail into the water so the boat would right itself...fairly crazy stuff but it was brilliant and we really enjoyed the whole sailing trip and met some fantastic people onboard. There was a table reserved for the Broomstick group in our hostel bar for that evening. Most of us headed back and showered etc before heading to the bar however 2 of the gang Darren and Trevor decided to hit the bar straight away and pretty much stay there for the 6 hours before the rest of us turned up - needless to say this made for a very entertaining night!! As well as our new found Broomstick friends we also bumped into Shelina and Kati again which was cool and we all had a great night. The next day it was back onto the Oz Experience and on to Kroombit.

Monday, October 2

Location: Sydney
Miles Travelled: 25094
Time Zone: GMT + 9

After Queenstown, we headed to Dunedin. Along the way, in a town called Alexandra we spotted a road called Ennis Street with the next street along called Limerick Street!! As soon as we got to Dunedin, we went on a lovely wildlife tour. You would not believe how close we got to some sealions! They were all sleeping on a beach which is on private land and only the one tour company is allowed access. It was amazing, they are such huge lumbering looking creatures while they're lying there sleeping, but apparently they move really fast if riled! On the same beach there is a yellow-eyed penguin colony, and we had gotten there in time to watch the penguins come home to bed. They're so cute, doing their little waddle walk!!! After watching the penguins for a while, we took a short walk uphill to a cliff top where we could watch another colony of wildlife, New Zealand fur seals this time... At this time of year the baby seals should be self-sufficient so the mothers just abandon them to catch their own food - unfortunately the babies are too stupid to cop this so they cry out for their mothers the whole time!!

We'd only planned one night in Dunedin so the next day we were off to Lake Tekapo. On our way out of Dunedin, we stopped for a short while to allow us time to climb the world's steepest street, Baldwin Street. Or for some of us, time to stand at the bottom of the street and take photos of the more energetic people climbing it!! Along the coast we took a walk among the Moeraki Boulders, which are these huge almost perfectly spherical rocks. Nobody knows how they're formed, but they're pretty impressive. We saw some more spectacular sights that day including the beautiful Aviemore Dam and Lake Pukaki, where we got our first view of Mt. Cook. Lake Tekapo is a lovely little village on the shores of a lake surrounded by snow-capped mountains. There isn't much there, just a statue of a collie dog which is a tribute to the dogs that enabled the pioneer farmers to manage their huge stations. There is also a gorgeous little chapel there called the Church of the Good Shepherd.
That night we met up with a girl from our hostel in Queenstown, and spent an exciting evening doing a jigsaw that had almost all it's pieces!

Off to Christchurch, where we spent the afternoon pottering around a market in Cathedral Square and had lunch in the Cathedral Cafe. Carmel headed for the airport to go to Auckland, and we went out for dinner with Colin and Pauline for Colin's birthday. Colin had the Wild Food challenge for dinner which was ostrich liver!! We'd a few drinks in the restaurant with some friends of theirs and then went on to Concrete for a few more. The following day we'd a nice lazy day in Christchurch, watching tv then called to Colin and Pauline's house to say goodbye.

We had a great time in Kaikoura... We went swimming with dusky dolphins, which was amazing!! There were loads of them and they totally interacted with us, it was fantastic!!! Not so fantastic was the "Wings over Whales" trip that we took... It was only a half hour flight and we saw one whale in the very beginning and then nothing at all for the rest of the flight... There are loads of whales in the area so it was pretty bad that the pilot only found one whale to show us. We were really disappointed...

The next day we were off to Picton to get the ferry across to the North Island, which was really nice. Having taught Jodie and Chris to play gin rummy, there was no stopping them for the whole ferry trip!! Or indeed when we got to the hostel that night...! The next day we visited Napier, stopping at Mt. Bruce Wildlife centre to visit some tuatara and some kiwis in a nocturnal house. We also stopped at the TUI brewery for a beer tasting session. In Napier, Jane and I had just about enough energy to go to the cinema to see Miami Vice.

Our next stop was Rotorua, where Jane and I went for a shopping session to buy a rucksack to replace my lovely suitcase, which had lost its pulley handle in Vancouver, and now had a buckled wheel! We had a great time shopping for the bag cos the guy who owns the outdoor shop, Bill Davis was lovely and entertaining. He even threw in some free padlocks for me, after reducing the price too! Afterwards, we decided to do the cultural thing so we went to a Maori dinner and exhibition at the Tamaki Village. We should have realised we were in for a fun night when our bus driver Mark managed to explain what the Maori greeting "Kia Ora" means, in over 50 languages including perfectly accented Irish!! We'd a great evening, very interesting and entertaining. There was great dancing and singing and some explanations of Maori culture along the way. All of the games the children played were to make them agile and fast for fighting. On the way back into town after dinner, Mark sang songs (including several national anthems) and made up lyrics. He even sang "Here we go 'round the Mulberry bush" while driving around and around a roundabout!!

The next day we went to Hobbiton village - the farm where "The Lord of the Rings" Hobbiton scenes were filmed. We got to see the Party Tree and several of the houses they built into the hill for the hobbits to live in. We took loads of photos and will no doubt watch the films again when we get home and compare it to real life! Afterwards our bus driver dropped us at Te Puia so we could go see the geysers and the mudpools. The geysers were pretty cool, they erupt really high! We also got to enter the grounds of a Maori Marae which is their meeting house and you're not normally allowed. The following day we went back to the Tamaki village to see The Realm of Tane which was 3 actors depicting an old lady explaining the culture to her granddaughter and how it's still relevant in the modern day. We got to do the nose-rubbing handshake with them afterwards which was cool!

We went to Mt. Maunganui that afternoon, for the night and then on to Auckland, stopping in the Kauranga Valley to take some pictures. We were staying with Jane's friend Maeve and Shaun in Auckland so we had a lovely quiet evening in, watching tv. On Sunday we went out for Sunday roast with Chris and Jodie when they arrived, but our roast was very disappointing - we didn't get enough food between us, so we actually complained and ended up only paying for 3 meals rather than the 5 we'd ordered. We figured that was about fair cos there was barely enough for 3 of us! Afterwards we went to Danny Doolan's for a few drinks and a sing-song. We were eventually kicked out of there - apparently a guy dancing on his own must be drunk! We went to The Fiddler next and then had chips on the way home.

The next day we hired a car and went to the wine region to try and get a wine tour. As Shaun works in one of the best wine bars in Auckland we had a bit of pull and in Nobilos winery they pulled out all the stops for us - getting one of their winemakers to give us a tour, and then giving us a wine tasting session. They even gave us a bottle of wine to take away with us! Shaun went to work then and we went out for dinner with Maeve to a lovely Turkish place. It was a lovely night and a great way to spend our last evening in New Zealand, as well as our farewell to Chris and Jodie. And then on to Cairns...

Location: Sydney
Miles Travelled: 25094
Time Zone: GMT + 9

Normally we start off a blog update by mentioning the birthdays that we have missed. This time is a little different, because it's not a birthday I want to commemorate but a person.

On August 29th 2006 my dear grandmother, Kitty McMahon, passed away at her home. She was 93 years of age, and a much loved mother of ten, grandmother of thirty-odd and great-grandmother of thirty-odd. She is very much missed. Thanks to everyone who passed on their sympathies to my family and I.

Monday, August 14

Location: Queenstown
Miles Travelled: 19235
Time Zone: GMT + 11

Hi all, right so we headed off to Auckland and lost the 30th July in transit! So we arrived in Auckland on the 31st to be greeted by grey skies, heavy rain and a cold wind. Needless to say we knew it would be cold but having been melting for the previous few weeks it was a little shocking. We jumped on the bus and heading into town to meet Sue at the hostel. We checked in and grabbed brekkie and then wandered round town in search for some warm clothes and jackets as we didn't really have any with us! That evening we booked dinner in SkyCity in the revolving restaurant overlooking (damp and slightly foggy) Auckland. The dinner was delicious and the wine went down well so we happily stumbled out of there and headed to the Globe for another one or two before retiring after a very long day. The next day we just relaxed and caught a film and went to a table quiz and managed to come away with some prizes. The next two days were spent on a little trip away from Auckland. We hired a car and drove to Rotorua, a volcanic area which smells of rotten eggs due to the hot springs which contain lots of sulphur. We went to a Spa (one of the top ten in the world apparently) for a mud massage followed by a few hours of lying in the hot pools outside - it was a fabulous day and left us all feeling very relaxed and kinda sleepy so it was on to Taupo for a night of pizza and tv. The next day we were all booked in for a Skydive at 10.30 in Taupo so we got up and headed to the Skydiving site but alas we were told we wouldn't be jumping at 10.30 as the weather wasn't right. They said to come back at 2 and that by then it may have cleared up but they didn't give us much hope. Luckily it did clear up and we got the good to go message when we rang at 2 so we headed over there. After a little while hanging round we got to get suited up in our very fetching red jump suits and harnesses before meeting our tandem partners and heading to the plane. The tandem partners were all very funny guys and thanks to them we were laughing and joking the whole way as we climbed to 12,000 feet in a very small and cramped plane (I had the pleasure of sitting next to the door which resembled a pvc roller blind!). Anyways I was the one to be jumping first and once we'd reached the right height the door was lifted and I was swung over the edge of a plane so that I was hanging off its side with my feet dangling under the planes body. It was at this point I realised where I was and what I was about to do...quite a daunting prospect but before I had time to worry about it my Tandem partner lurged forward and I thought here we go...but no he was only kidding and it was a false alarm...after 2 more false alarms he finally jumped and I was free falling - it was amazing. The view of the ground and the lake was spectacular and the sensation was brilliant. After about a minute of freefall the parachute went up and we drifted around in the air admiring the scenery before landing. Once landed I got to watch Sue and then Ang float down to earth safely. Everyone enjoyed it and it was an amazing experience. We all headed back to Auckland on a high.
Ang headed off to Christchurch the next day and we were separated for the first time - sniff sniff. I stayed in Auckland with Sue for her last few days while Ang went to visit with friends(Colin and Pauline) in Christchurch. I had a great few days in Auckland with Sue before saying farewell to her and catching my flight down to reunite with Ang in Christchurch. When I was greeted by Ang and Colin (who very kindly had come to collect me) I was told of their adventures that morning on Mount Hutt. Ang had tried snowboarding for the first time and thankfully survived uninjured apart from a badly bruised ass. Apparently she had been using it as a brake!! We were only in Christchurch for a few hours so grabbed a loverly indian takeaway and hit the sack as the next day we were beginning our MagicBus tour.
The Tranzalpine train was leaving at 8.15am so we had an early start but armed with our leftover indian we boarded the train feeling prepared for our trip. We sat at a table opposite two people (Jodie and Chris from Billingham) who once we got talking to we discovered were also doing the same magic bus trip as us and also had the same time frame. So when we weren't marvelling at the scenery we all spent our time planning our magic bus schedules which both ended up being very similar. Our train arrived in Greymouth around 1 and we headed off to check in to our hostel. While checking in we were told of a trip to Punakaiki which was leaving the hostel at 2 and so we thought we'd join that. On the trip we got to stop at a few viewing points to admire the coastal scenary (which surprisingly is a Karst landscape - just like the Burren!!) along the Tasman Sea, walk a track down to a secluded beach and then we stopped off to see the Pancake rocks and blowholes of Punakaiki. Alas, there was no blowing in the blowholes but the rocks and surrounding scenery were well worth it. We got back and headed to meet up with Jodie and Chris for a drinky. It was another early morning the following day as we had all booked on an 8.15am cave rafting expedition. The trip was amazing, firstly we walked through a forest track to reach Tuniwha cave before heading straight in there in our very flattering wet suits and thermal under garments. We spent about 3 hours walking and climbing through the caves as well as floating on inner tubes under the wonderous sight of a ceiling full of gloworms. Upon leaving the cave we also got to try a natural water slide - i.e. sliding down a rock face which had water flowing down it and landing in a large pool of freezing water. It was excellent! On returning to town we were frozen through and very glad to jump into a bubbling spa with glasses of wine and a hot muffin. That night we met an Irish girl called Carmel from Kerry in our hostel room, she soon became part of our little travelling gang. The next day we caught the magicbus to Franz Josef. Enroute we got to try our hand at gold panning in Ross and got to keep anything we found!! Once in Franz Josef we all decided to go for a walk to Lake Wombat which was a really pretty and peaceful little lake just outside the town. After this we chilled out and watched telly and played boardgames in the hostel.
We were up early again to next day to check in for our next activity - a full day hike on the Franz Josef Glacier. Yes - I did say Glacier. It was amazing...we spent a total of about 5 hours on the glacier itself, leaping over and squeezing through crevasses and holes in the ice. After our hike we had dinner and some congratulatory drinks and went on another little adventure through a pitch black forest in search of some more gloworms. After a scary walk we finally got to awe at the sight of hundreds of gloworms surrounding us as we stood in the dark - it really made me think of a fairy land...all the little lights hiding in amongst the trees.
Next it was off to Queenstown on the bus. Enroute the scenary was spectacular and like nothing I have seen before...snowcapped mountains and lakes that ran alongside the road. We made a stop at Lake Matheson (the mirror lake) which reflects the surrounding snow capped mountains perfectly for an unforgettable sight. We also stopped off at the first ever commercial bungy jump and two brave souls from the bus made the jump. We arrived in Queenstown quite late so made ourselves dinner and then had a few drinks and a natter in Jodie and Chris's unit.
The next morning we were due to pick up a rental car and head for Milford sound. On the way to town - actually about 10 seconds outside the hostel I decided to try a new extreme sport - Pavement Diving! It involves hurtling yourself head/face first down a downhill tarmac path in the lashing rain (the water adds a little more momentum for a longer slide!). However I would advise any future Pavenment Divers to wear protective gear as I ended up almost knocking myself out with a massive bump on my forehead and grazing and bruising my knee and pretty much rendering my left arm useless - yeap calamity Jane struck again. After a few moments of temporary blindness and weakness I managed to phone Ang who was a few minutes ahead of me and informing her in a very wobbly voice that I had fallen and basically couldn't move. She sent Chris back to help me inside while they got the car and came back to pick me up for a quick trip to the Medical Centre (which luckily the bus driver had pointed out). I was given the all clear eventually and Ang was given a sheet of things to look out for in concussed people (among them giddiness and confusion - not very unusual for me on a normal day!). So off I went with my Kiwi sized bump on my forehead, a limp and a left arm which didn't work! After the crisis and detour were over we hit the road for Milford Sound. The drive there was insane as we literally drove over and through mountains, we got to see autumn, winter and spring all in one drive! We arrived just in time to catch the last ferry round the bay. The cruise was great as we not only got to see the scenery but also the added bonus of seeing bottle nosed dolphins, fur seals and yellow eyed penguins. Oh and we also got drenched under a waterfall!!
Yesterday we still had the car and headed to Wanaka for the day. We went to Puzzling World which is a great place for anyone who likes puzzles and illusions. It also had a huge maze which we managed to find our way out of. After that we went to Have A Shot where we all tried something, Ang and I tried the mini-golf and rifle shooting. Jodie and Chris tried the driving range and Ang tried Archery (which I would have done except my left arm still wasn't working). It was a really great day and so to finish it off we went for a nice slap up meal in DuxdeLux in Queenstown. And strangely enough so far today all we've mainly done is update the blog. So there you go...we've finally managed to get ourselves up to date. Check back again soon for the rest of our New Zealand adventures.

Location:  Queenstown
Miles Travelled:  19235
Time Zone:  GMT + 11

Hello! Yeah, it's us... As you may have noticed, we're a bit rubbish at keeping the blog up to date... Basically, we're busy!! We're trying to see and do as much as is humanly possible in the amount of time we have. That's our excuse, and we're sticking to it!

First up, the belated birthdays! Happy birthday to Sonya Reddy, John McCarthy and Stephen McNally!!
Also, a special Happy First Birthday to little Sarah O'Brien! And to her honourary Auntie Jane who shares her birthday!

So, when we left you last, we were in Las Vegas...
Great place is Las Vegas! We lost the huge sum of about $25 between us, and that's after winning little sums of money and losing it all again. We went to a couple of shows there too - Viva Las Vegas (which had some of those famous Las Vegas Showgirls in it) and American Superstars. American Superstars was a show of lookalikes, including Britney Spears, Elvis, Christina Aguilera, Tim McGraw and a very funny Michael Jackson! After several weeks of driving in rural America, we'd had to become fans of Country and Western music (it was that or really bad Christian music all day!) so we already knew some of Tim McGraw's songs.
We also went to see the Sirens of T.I. outdoor show at Treasure Island (made famous-ish by Miss Congeniality 2!) - but due to the heat (106 degrees at 10:30 at night!!), I had to leave and find myself a nice air-conditioned hotel lobby to recover in!
We'd gotten free tickets into a really fancy looking nightclub so we headed there one of the nights and enjoyed a lovely open air terrace on the roof in between fighting for space on the dancefloor!

We took a 2 day trip to the Grand Canyon from Las Vegas, and on the recommendation of a hostel guy in LA, we drove via Zion National Park and the North Rim. It turns out he was dead right cos the scenery in Zion NP is just spectacular!! It's all red cliffs towering above the road... We got to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon on time for the tail end of sunset, and that was really pretty. Unfortunately we hadn't booked our accommodation on time and ended up spending the night (I won't say sleeping!) in the car on the main road into the park as it's illegal to sleep in your car in the park itself. We set our alarms to be up on time for sunrise at 5:23am the next morning and we were there a good hour before anything happened. It was only later we figured it out - while Arizona is in the same time zone as Utah (where we'd changed our watches), Arizona doesn't do Daylight Savings even though Utah does! Ah well, it's better that we were an hour early than an hour late! Sunrise was beautiful though...
As we'd been up so early we had plenty of time to have breakfast and lounge around for a while watching a group of chipmunks play on a patio before deciding to hit the road for the South Rim. The whole way there is through a Native American reservation andf it's the most barren wasteland ever! On the South Rim, we visited the Desert View lookout and it was then we really saw the Grand-ness of the Canyon! It's a truly stunning place!! There's a beautiful old (well, 1930's I think) watchtower there that was designed to show off Native American art, and it has amazing views all around.
After that we drove into Grand Canyon village and got a shuttle bus tour up along an edge of the canyon for more great views!
When we got back to Las Vegas we went up in the lift to the top of the tower of our hotel - the Stratosphere. We had a great time scaring ourselves to death on the three fairground rides that throw you off the top of the tower!!

The following day we headed back to LA where we picked up Dave from the airport. During the next couple of days we visited Laguna Beach & Newport Beach and then spent a great day in Disneyland! We had a fab time in Disneyland, going on all the rides, watching the parade and enjoying the fireworks show. Dave even had a little admirer while watching the parade - a tiny baby girl called Isabelle who was convinced he was just a giant baby cos of his bald head!

And on to San Diego!
We were staying pretty much on the beach on San Diego so after our late arrival the previous night, we dozed on the beach for our first day - typically the hostel was doing it's monthly maintenance on our room that day and we'd had to vacate it by 11 that morning! We weren't impressed.
We'd a quiet few days the next few days - Dave was at the ComicCon most of the daytime so we had busier evenings. We spent Jane's birthday at San Diego Zoo, where we got to ooh and ah over baby Meercats and the really cool Pandas!! It was great fun. We even attempted a big night out that night but after Jane and Dave had drank a Gigante Margarita each, they were incapable of movement - for once I'd been sensible!! (I know, wonders will never cease!) On our last night in San Diego, we went into town to meet Dave and his ComicCon friends for dinner - apparently having dinner with Scott McCloud and his family is a big deal? Nice guy actually.

Hawai'i was great fun... On our first evening there we went for dinner in the Cheesecake Factory with Tina and Joe who were on the last 2 nights of their honeymoon. They were well up on all the happening places in Waikiki so we spent the rest of the night in the world-famous Dukes on the Beach - we'd never heard of it either, but it's a nice place! There we accumulated two more Irish couples, so we made a nice little bunch!
We spent the next day on the beach and accidentally found ourselves primely located (is that even an expression?) for a free film being shown on the beach that evening! It happened to be one we'd both wanted to see and hadn't gotten around to it yet - Failure to Launch. Afterwards we went to a bar called Moose Macgillycuddy's to meet Tina and Joe and found there was some free entertainment provided - a very classy bikini contest! I don't think Tina, Jane or I enjoyed it as much as other people...
We had dinner with Tina and Joe again the following night just before they caught their flight to San Francisco to continue their holiday. It was lovely to catch up with them!

We went to the Big Island (also called Hawai'i) for two days then, and did a lot of driving around. We went to visit the King Kamehameha statue in the north of the island (well, we think it was the north of the island, but they don't do maps with north at the top over there!!) and attempted to visit a rainforest valley but it got foggy so we turned back. It was around this time we discovered that we'd actually had an earthquake the previous day - thanks for asking if we were alright!!! Oh yeah, we were also being threatened with a Hurricane, but none of you worried about that either, did you??! Luckily for us, both passed without much incident (the hurricane turned into Tropical Storm Daniel and missed the islands, and the earthquake was only 4.9 on the richter scale and was on a different island).
We visited the Volcano National Park then and saw some amazing sights including the steam plumes as the lava enters the sea, some massive volcano craters and all the old lava streams that have hardened on the mountains... We really didn't have enough time there, so if you ever get the chance, spend more than one day in the Volcano NP!!
Back in Honolulu that night, we went on a Sunset cruise and then spent a few hours in Moose Macgillycuddy's again - this time I undid all my intelligent behaviour from San Diego and really did the dog on the drink. We won't say any more as I can't actually remember too much. Good job Jane was there then, eh?
The following day we dragged our very hungover bodies out of bed and did a tour to Hanauma Bay to do some snorkelling... Amazing experience! I was just trying on my mask and snorkel and stuck my head in the water to see if it was on right and there was a fish right there under my nose and several others nearby! This was in knee-high water! There were some beautiful fish there and we'd a lovely day...

Our flight to Auckland left at midnight so we had a whole day at Pearl Harbour. If you're a big fan of military history and equipment (ShaneG?), this is the place to be! There are (disarmed) torpedos, guns and submarine equipment all over the place! We did a fascinating audio tour of "The Pearl Harbour Avenger", a submarine called Bowfin... We also did an audio tour of the museum and the USS Arizona memorial, and it was totally mind-blowing... For people who didn't know much about what happened that day, it was a total eye-opener. We came away with a new-found understanding of what that attack did to the American people. The memorial itself inspires total silence and awe... When you realise that you're standing above a sunken ship containing the bodies of over 900 men, there's not a lot to say...
Definitely a place we'd recommend visiting!

And on to New Zealand...

Wednesday, July 12

Location:  Las Vegas, baby!
Miles Travelled:  8286
Time Zone:  GMT-8

Yeap...we hit San Francisco and the view of the Golden Gate bridge wasn't what we had hoped for as it was layered in fog and we could just about make out the bottom of each of its columns. Apparently its just the way San Fran is...foggy and about 10 degrees cooler than all its surrounding towns...very strange! We managed to find our way to our hostel and checked in - unfortunately it was more of a hotel than a hostel so we didn't have alot of the amenities we were hoping for like a kitchen and a common room but it was ok as we had a tv and that saved us!
Our first day was spent walking round the area and finding our bearings. We went down to Fishermans Wharf (the major touristy area) by street car which was fun and had a quick look round and booked some activities for the next few days. We had dinner and went to the cinema and then to a local irish bar for a few drinks before heading back. The next day we were up bright and early for our collection by the bus tour company - we were off to Napa and Sonoma Valleys for the day. Once out of San Fran the weather cleared up and it was a fantastic clear and sunny day for our trip...we stopped at 3 different wineries (as they are called here) and got taught how to taste and drink wine properly (we is poesh we are) which we did alot of at each tasting is good. The wineries we visited were all quite different to each other both in size and in style, the smallest was the Madonna winery which is also organic, the next was a medium sized winery called Viansa, the grounds of which made the California countryside look like Tuscany and is used for weddings all year round. The final winery was the largest and was called Cline, who also have a museum, avaries and fish ponds on their property. It was a fabulous day and ended with us finally getting an almost clear view of the Golden Gate bridge on our way back into San Fran.
No rest for the wicked as they say and so we were up again the next morning to catch our boat to Alcatraz. What an amazing place, we ended up staying there for almost the whole afternoon enjoying all the tours and experiencing the creepy atmosphere of the cellhouse. Even though it was kinda creepy I have to say it was one of the coolest places I have ever visited and I really enjoyed it. It was really weird to look through the windows of the prison and see the view the prisoners had of the city just 1.5 miles tempting it must have been. Very tempting in fact as 5 people managed to escape the island and are still missing to this day! However most of the 14 escape attempts did fail and didn't end well for the escapees. On arriving back at the wharf we were delighted to see that the local residing Sea Lions had come home and were sunning themselves on their rafts in the marina. We spent some time watching them before grabbing dinner and then wandering round the shops and amusements. We headed back to get changed and then headed out to another bar on the recommendation of our waitress - very useful people to ask for suggestions we've found! The bar was celebrating Canada Day 3 days early which made for a good night with some boogeying etc. Friday was our last day so we did the atypical touristy things. We went to see the Painted Ladies (loverly row of victorian painted houses often seen on tv) in Alamo Square and then hopped on a bus and a streetcar to go see the crookedest street in the world Lombard Street which gladly we didn't have to drive down - crazy! Then we jumped, literally jumped on to a cable car for a spin down the famous San Fran hills. I have to say hanging off the side of a moving vehicle was a new experience for me and one I'd do again especially when you whizz pass other vehicles and have to breathe in to get past them! We had an early start the next morning as we were hitting the road and so we hit the cinema again. And that was it for San Fran.
While on the road we decided to take a little detour and do the 17 mile drive via Pebble Beach Golf Club. The drive itself was pretty nice as it had some beautiful views and lots of very big houses. One of the sights on the drive was the Signature tree of Monteray - the Lone Cypress. Abnd of course us being us we didn't learn from past experieneces and decided once more to try the coastal route on highway 1 - which yet again ended up in lots and lots of rallyesque driving and very slow progress. So we hit the 101 again. We had planned to stop roughly midway to Los Angeles in a little town called San Luis Obispo but hadn't planned accommodation and had thought camping would be fine but unlike Flint Ridge the campsites closed pretty early and by the time we got there it was too late so we had to hunt round for a motel for the evening. Luckily we found one just before it became full and grabbed a room. It was pretty late and we'd had a long day driving so just vegged for the night. Next day it was on to LA. We decided to stop in Santa Barbara for brunch as recommended by our guide book - which yes we were now finally reading in advance. Santa Barbara is so ridiculously beautiful and looks just like you'd expect California to look. Palm trees lining the roads, beautiful white buildings with red terracotta roofs all set against a mountainous background and a clear blue sky. It was heaven! The recommended brunch was fab as we got to enjoy it on a lovely patio surrounded by plants and flowers. Yes, we had decided we had really hit the true california we had expected and we were liking it! After brunch we continued our drive to LA along the 101. We hit the outskirts and had a great time trying to navigate our way to our hotel especially as we didn't actually have a map that showed where the street was - but hooray for us we found it without getting lost or being involved in a drive by shooting! As we couldn't get accommodation for the whole week in one place our first 2 nights were in a hotel which was kinda in the middle of nowhere but that kinda suited us as we needed a day or 2 off to recharge. So we camped out in our hotel, only leaving it to wander round the local shopping centre to buy food and various other bits and pieces.
It was a nice few days and afterwards we were ready to hit the beach - Venice beach to be precise which was where our next hostel was located. We also somehow managed to find the hostel with a little help from a nice police man and yet another waiter. The hostel was a big house and has the friendliest staff and atmosphere I have ever experienced. We settled in almost immediately and joined the masses vegging in the living room to watch the football and then headed to Hermosa Beach (with an accidental detour to manhattan beach - don't ask!) to meet up with Ang's friend Karen and her husband Eanna for some fourth of July festivities. We all went to their friends Conor and Mandy's apartment where a gang had gathered for food and drinks which was really nice and once well fed we all headed to Redondo beach to watch the fireworks. We managed to get prime positions along the wall by the beach from which to view the fireworks...however one of the positions wasn't as prime as the others...John (Eanna's boss) thought he felt his shorts get damp and so stood up to discover a little puddle of liquid behind the wall...further investigation led up the embankment behind the wall to a partially empty catheter bag...ouh ouh ouh...John quickly derobed and went for a nice cleansing salt water bath in the sea...once again...ouh ouh OUH!!!! But that didn't dampen our spirits and we all enjoyed the brilliant firework display that was put on, before heading back to the hostel. We got up the next day and watched the 2nd semi-final before heading to dinner with Karen in the Cheesecake factory overlooking the Marina. The cheesecakes were amazing! We decided to jump on the LA City Tour the next day and see a bit of everything. The tour started at the beaches, Santa Monica and Venice, before heading to Hollywood where we stopped for lunch and a wander round. We got to see the chinese theatre and the stars hand and foot prints outside it, we walked along the walk of fame and spotted the stars of lots of stars we knew and then we got to see the Kodak Centre which hosts the Oscars every year. After our little stop we headed for the hills (Mulholland Drive, Beverly Hills and Bel Air) and went star house spotting. We saw loads but here are just a few: Britney Spears, Julia Roberts, John Travolta, Leonardo DiCaprio, Nicolas Cage, Jennifer Lopez and Billy Crystal(who are neighbours) and the estate of the late Marlon Brando...oh and the Fresh Princes house too! While on our house hunt we went to a viewing point and got to see the infamous Hollywood sign and take the obligatory photos. After that we stopped off at Rodeo Drive for some shopping (ha ha) and some star spotting but stars were spotted while we were there...we were kinda hoping to bump into Colin Farrell but hey! Following our tour we headed back and chilled on the couch for the evening. The next day we moved to another hostel down the road and then hit the beach and did some sunbathing, some wave jumping and some rollerblading. Yeap...major cheese with the whole rollerblading along the beach thing - but we liked it! We rushed back as we had arranged to meet Karen for dinner and a movie and were running late! We just about managed to have time for a fab dinner buffet in the Soup Plantation for a huge $10 and then headed to the cinema to meet up with two other girls (Danielle and Laurie) for a chick flick. The next day we headed for a yummy pancake brekkie in IHOP (International House of Pancakes) to set us up for the day. We headed to santa monica pier that evening and went on the roller coaster and ferris wheel which was great fun and provided some fabulous views of the beaches. And that was our last night in least for the time being! The next morning we packed up and checked out and headed back to our first hostel to watch the World Cup Final with the guys there. And what a final...luckily we weren't on a deadline for time so were able to stay right till the end before having lunch and hitting the road again for Las Vegas.
And thats where we'll leave it for now...tune in next time, same bat time, same bat channel.

Location:  Las Vegas, baby!
Miles Travelled:  8286
Time Zone:  GMT-8

First off, belated happy birthdays to: Edna Cannon, my sister Ailish, Eddie Corry, my sister Olivia, Shane Gannon, Mike Ryan, Mary Joyce and especially to Grannie who just turned 93! Also belated birthday wishes to Big Dave and George.

It's been a while since we updated the blog, but we have good reasons, honest! It's because we're on a budget and they seem to be running a cartel over internet access here. Expensive is not the word for it - yesterday we saw a shop advertising internet access for "only 25c" - and that's per minute! Yep, that's $15 for an hour - and the blog takes about 2 hours to update with pictures etc. We don't love you all that much!

At this point, we have most of the road trip done, there won't be a whole lot of driving left after this week is over.

After leaving Mairead's, we hit the road for Astoria, the most north-westerly tip of Oregon. The scenery en-route was typical Washington countryside, with large forests on both sides of the road, and up into the hills around us. The most amazing sight that night was almost the last thing on the road - a 4.1 mile bridge stretching across the Columbia river into Astoria. We hadn't been reading our guidebook, so it came totally out of the blue and totally surprised us with it's seemingly never-endingness! We stayed in Astoria overnight, and after some lovely buttermilk pancakes for breakfast, we took the advice of our waitress and headed up the hill to view the Astoria Column. The view from the top was well worth the 164 steps we had to climb to get there!! We could even see Mt. St. Helen's from the top.
After stopping off at some beaches in Fort Stevens to see where the river meets the Pacific, we moved on to a town called Seaside, which is your usual British or Irish seaside town, but seems to be quite rare here - it has the promenade, the arcades, the restaurants and sweet shops. We picked up some supplies and drove to beautiful Ecola Park for a picnic lunch - perched on top of a cliff with the sea in front of us and trees around us. They couldn't have picked a prettier spot for a picnic table!
Time seemed to fly by that evening and we were hard-pressed to get to our next overnight stop, Coos Bay so there were no more stops on the way.

The following day was our first sighting of the giant redwood forests and California, so you can imagine the excitement! We took a trip to Jedediah Smith State Park for lunch, and ended up spending most of the afternoon there as it was so amazing! After our lunch, we did a nature trail where we learned a lot about the trees (did you know their roots only extend 6-8 feet underground, and then spread sideways and entwine with other tree roots for stability?), and as we were tempted by the beautiful clear blue water of the Smith river we just had to go for a swim - or paddle in my case! We had such a lovely afternoon, and arrived at our hostel planning a couple of warm showers, a bottle of wine and a long sleep. That's not quite what happened!! On arrival, we were told that our booking wasn't for that night and the following night as we were sure we'd booked, but for the following two nights! So there we are, in the middle of Redwoods National park unable to get accomodation in the only building for miles - what could we do? Luckily we had bought a tent, for just such an emergency and the lady at the hostel kindly gave us directions to a nearby free campsite at Flint Ridge. As the name suggests, Flint Ridge is not in the most easily accessible place ever and involved a very narrow winding road not far from the edge of a cliff. Bearing in mind it was already dark, there were no lights and we weren't sure we were in the right place, it was a fun experience getting there! We managed to find a spot to pitch our tent, next to another tent whose occupants didn't seem to be anywhere about. As we organised our stuff (food well away from the tent, in case of bears... yes, I did say bears!!), 3 shapes came out of the darkness toward the other tent and after introductions we discovered we had met some of a rare variety - people from Wyoming! The three lads were three brothers from a place called Mountain View in the south of the State. Cody (22), Wayson (21) and Austin (18) Wight had been visiting a friend in Portland and had decided to travel that bit further for a view of the ocean. Lucky for us, as they lit a campfire and supplied us with a corkscrew - which greatly improved the evening!! We sat around chatting for the rest of the night and arranged to visit a nearby tourist attraction together the following day.

After a chilly nights sleep, we awoke to the sounds of the lads taking down their tent - numerous uses of the word "Dude" were overheard! After failing to fit their tent back into it's bag, we demonstrated how it's done with our tent and headed back down the trail to our cars to make our way to the "Trees of Mystery". While not exactly a con, there's nothing mysterious about the trees, they just happen to grow near a stream or river that's called Mystery. However that said, it was a great experience and there are some beautiful trees there including: The Brotherhood tree (19 foot in diameter), the Candlabra tree (a fallen tree which has several newer trees growing straight up from it's trunk) and the Cathedral tree, which is actually a semi-circular grouping of 9 trees, that is used as a wedding chapel!! Pretty cool place to get married! After seeing the trees we took the Sky Trail gondola up above the tree tops to a hill top lookout, and after watching a family of Ospreys for a while, took the 1 mile trail down. When they provide hiking sticks and repeatedly warn the trail is for advanced hikers only, make sure and take note!! It was quite difficult - but it ain't the Grouse Grind!!! Everyone made it down in one piece and went off to enjoy the Native American museum and souvenir shop. After a long and interesting tour of the museum (and after Cody finally convinced himself he could afford to buy a hand-made flute, despite having just lost $200 in Vegas!!), we said our goodbyes safe in the knowledge that we had infected the lads with the travel bug! Don't be surprised if they turn up in Limerick or Ennis someday! Not far from the "Trees of Mystery" there is a "Tour-Thru Tree" which naturally we just had to go and drive through - top down on the convertible, of course! It's actually pretty sad, cos it has so obviously been cut to fit cars and SUVs through - I must be very naive cos I had thought it would be a natural phenomonen. On we went to the Lady Bird Johnson Grove for a hike and a picnic and then it was back to that hostel, for attempt number 2! Luckily, all went swimmingly this time around, and we even discovered that 2 other people had had their bookings mysteriously moved by a day too! (We blame the IT staff of that internet site - can't get good staff these days!) We finally got to have our hot showers and good nights sleep!

The next day, we drove along the "Avenue of the Giants" and stopped off in Founder's Grove for lunch before hitting the road to San Francisco! On the map, Highway 1 looked like a good idea as it travelled along the coast - you can imagine the views it would have. I didn't see much of it as I stupidly disbelieved a sign saying the next 22 miles would be a bit bendy... How did I get so mistrusting?? We eventually covered the 22 miles rally-style in over an hour, only to find another sign saying the same thing for the next 30 miles!!! We cut back to Highway 101, along a similarly bendy road, but once there the drive went much faster!

And then we arrived in San Francisco...

Thursday, June 22

Location: Seattle
Miles Travelled: 6246
Time Zone: GMT-8 (PST)

What a fantastic week its been here in Seattle...this city is really great. Of course a lot of our experience is down to our luxurious surroundings and fabulous host who has shown us a brilliant time. Thanks for everything are a star!

We arrived on Friday and had a lovely bbq with a few drinks and a big catch up chat. On Saturday we headed down to Fremont (the arty\hippy area of Seattle) to watch the Fremont Solstice Fair parade.
The parade was pretty unique as it started off with a procession of naked bicycle riders some painted and some interesting sight to say the least! The parade also had lots of floats and gorgeous costumes and dancing and filled the whole area with a great atmosphere. A lot of the streets in the area were closed and had lots of stalls selling everything and anything. There were a few music stages dotted about and also a really cool exhibition of weird and wonderful cars - our favourite was the high-heel car! On Saturday evening we hit the town and following some yummy Thai food we sampled a few of the lovely Seattle bars and stumpled (new word - the act of short people stumbling) home.

We hit the road (and the sea) on Sunday and headed for Olympic National Park and after a longer than planned drive following the ferry crossing we got there and went to see the beautiful 60-ft falls. We then headed up the mountain to check out the view from Hurricane Ridge but alas we ended up in the clouds before getting to the top and had to turn back as the visibility was terrible, but we did get to see some great views on the way up and down! We then stopped in the woods for a picnic lunch before heading back. After nearly 9 hours driving Mairead (the driver!!) and us had a quiet night in front of the telly.

We decided to declare Monday as a Restday as both Ang and I were a bit sniffly so we lounged round the house and internetted for most of the day which was lovely. Once Mairead got home we were feeling fighting fit again and so headed off to see Snoqualmie Falls. The falls are actually higher (100ft higher) than Niagara Falls so they were pretty impressive to say the least. Also while there we got the rare opportunity to see a young Peregrine Falcon who had just left the nest - that was pretty cool!

On Tuesday we headed into town and wandered round Pike Place Market for the afternoon which was really nice and relaxing as there was tonnes of great window shopping to be done. Then to the highlight of our week....the Duck Dodge!
The Duck Dodge is a weekly sailing race on Lake Union (which incidentally is where the Sleepless in Seattle house boat lives - which we saw of course!).
Ang and I were pretty nervous about the whole thing as neither of us had ever even been on a boat before never mind helped with the crewing of it during a race! So yeap we had a baptism of fire with Captain Charles (a.k.a Ahab) and crew members Steven and Mairead trying to direct us in our duties onboard. Yeap...we had duties and we managed to carry them pretty well in fact that we managed to come in in 11th place (out of 29) which was the same position they came in the previous race when there were no novices aboard...hooray for us! We must say that we absolutely loved the whole sailing thing and will happily volunteer on any boat that will have us from now on...hint hint. So following our success we headed to the pub to celebrate with dinner and drinks!

As Wednesday was our last evening we decided to cook dinner for our lovely host, when I say we it was mainly Ang who cooked and I kinda helped! The menu was Veggie lasagne and banoffee pie (yum yum) - apparently thats all Ang can cook! Following our yummy dinner we headed to the cinema to see a chick flick before having an early night ahead of our obscenely early start this morning.

So yeap we got up at 6.30am to head to the pub to watch Ghana triumph over the US. I have to say the early start was painful but the game was good and on the day the best team won. After the game we said our goodbyes and went to pick up our oh so beautiful convertible car...hee hee...

so now we're packing up and getting ready to hit the road on our month long road trip. While on the road web access may be scarce so apologies for long gaps in emails and blogging, we'll try our best to stay in touch as often as we can. Till next time! Bye!

Tuesday, June 20

Location: Seattle
Miles Travelled: 6246
Time Zone: GMT-8 (PST)

We'd like to wish Mar a very Happy Birthday today!!

And now a little quiz for everyone.
Answers in comments please and we'll post the answer later in the week.

     Does anyone recognise this place?

Answer: This building was the Lodge in the tv show Twin Peaks!

Monday, June 19

Location: Seattle
Miles Travelled: 6246
Time Zone: GMT-8 (PST)

Firstly, I have to say a big giant Happy Birthday to my favourite little monkey - my niece Mia is 6 today! Here she is minding her little cousin Ella.

Also, Happy Birthday to a slightly bigger monkey, my baby bro' Paul - he's just turned the big two five! (Feeling old yet P?)

So we've been in Seattle a couple of days now, but since we haven't said a word about Vancouver yet, we'd better bring you up to date on how things went there first!

Our first impressions of Vancouver were from the aeroplane and the view is absolutely amazing!! Snow-capped mountains, forests and lakes all around... Not exactly the view you get when landing in Shannon!
As soon as we landed in Vancouver we got another nice surprise - Vivek was on holidays there and was coming to meet us at the airport! Not usually how you'd expect someone to want to spend their last day in a city! It was great that he did come to the airport cos we were just a tiny bit overloaded with luggage and the extra help was great... We headed off to the hostel and on the way there agreed to follow Viv's suggestion of doing a bit of a hike in the nearby mountains.
This involved a trip on public transport - not too many places have a SeaBus as part of their transport system, I'd imagine? Follow that up with a normal old bus struggling to get halfway up a mountain - we thought we might have to get out and push at one stage!
Amber in Toronto had suggested we do this trail - it's called the "Grouse Grind" and is very popular. Now we know why she's never done it herself!! The pain...
It took us two and a quarter hours, and that wasn't quite as slow as is possible! Once we got to the top, the views were amazing but none of us were quite sure it was worth the pain - especially Jane who's vowed never to do it again!!! Ever.

We had planned several things that we'd like to do in Vancouver, but due to total exhaustion from the hike (Jane would like to remind you that we did the hike straight after a 5 hour flight), we didn't do much for the next two days, except recover! And yes, it did take that long...but we did make some new friends, Bearrister the Bear and a sweet lil old lady who didn't give us her name!

Wednesday night we went to a Comedy club, which had some really good comedians and since it was a pro-am night, there were some not so good ones too... Cringeworthy stuff. More good than bad though, so worth the extremely expensive door-price - $3!

Thursday we went to the Aquarium. Jane's been laughing at me since I first told her the reason why I wanted to go there - if anyone else remembers the tv programme "Danger Bay", they might understand! My memory of the show is that the two kids in the show were always rescuing marine animals and messing about on boats, and their Dad worked in or ran the Vancouver Aquarium. So there you go - kids do watch too much tv!
In any case, it was well worth the visit and we got to see some Beluga Whales, some reef sharks, dolphins, a giant sea lion and lots of other fish/mammals/sea creatures. That particular aquarium has an Amazon exhibit, which includes crocodiles, spiders, birds, snakes and the largest freshwater fish in the world! No idea what it's called but it was BIG!!

Jane and I had great fun turning the amazon exhibit into a life-sized "Where's Wally?" game - they had signs telling us what creatures were supposed to be there, and yet no sign of several of them. I think she was the only person who spotted the Sloths curled up hidden high on the walls, or the pygmy monkey that we wanted to put in our pockets and bring home with us!
We also managed to find Nemo!

That's pretty much it from Vancouver, it's a nice place but we felt it was a little soul-less... Maybe that's just cos we didn't go to the right places.

Tuesday, June 13

Location: Vancouver
Miles Travelled: 6106
Time Zone: GMT-8

Well we survived our final days in Toronto and managed to fit quite alot in.
We went on the hop-on hop-off tour of the city which was nice although typically I did get sunburnt - nothing new there!
Then on Friday we went a bit posh and headed to the CN Tower(the tallest free-standing structure in the world!!) for lunch in the revolving restaurant which was really cool as the food was great and the views amazing.
Then we had mini freak attacks when we tried to step onto the glass floor on the observatory level which is 115 storeys above the very visible ground below. We managed to step onto it eventually but not for very long - we're such chickens really but we have photos to prove it!
After that we headed back to the house where there was a rock n' roll style bbq being hosted by Mattheu one of the housemates. The bbq was excellent fun and I had my first (and quite possibly last) mojito. After the bbq ended we all headed into town to catch a gig as part of the big music festival called North by NorthEast. We all rolled home eventually and just about made it to bed in one piece.
The next morning was painful to say the least as we had to get up and pick up the rental car before heading to Brighton. We ended up getting a huge SUV instead of the little car we had ordered so I had tonnes of fun negotiating the car park before hitting the streets of toronto. Thankfully the driving went well and we made it to the venue in time to take a few naps in the back of the car (classy we are!) before hitting the reception. The wedding reception was fantastic craic and the bride and groom looked fabulous (see photo) as did the entire wedding party. The reception ended and we all headed to Moms house (Mom being the groom Jeremy's mother) where we were greeted by several pets and a huge 3/4 wolf and the friendliest and most welcoming family I have ever met considering to most of them we were total strangers!
We hit the road early the next morning to get back and cos we made it back so early we decided to take another trip as we had the car for the rest of the day. Niagara was chosen as the destination. We swung by the house to pick up Wayne and headed off. The Falls looked fab as it was a really nice and clear day. We did the Journey behind the Falls which was really cool as you got to feel the power of the falls from little lookouts from within a tunnel which travels behind them.
Well thats pretty much it from our Toronto leg. We'd like to say a huge thanks to all those in Waynes house (Matt, Raphi, Amber and Amanda) for putting up with us for the week and showing us a great time. Vancouver has only just begun so stay tuned for the next update to find out more!

Wednesday, June 7

Location: Toronto
Miles Travelled: 4021
Time Zone: GMT-5

My feet hurt!! We've been here a couple of days now and since we're never in any hurry, we haven't really used Toronto's brilliant subway system very much - we've been doing a lot of walking instead. The great side effect of this is that we have a better idea of whereabouts we are - most of the time! The bad side effect is that neither of us have used our summer shoes very much before now, so they're not very worn in. Ah well...

Jane's friend from home, Wayne, met us at the airport on Monday afternoon and we got a taxi to his place. We spent Monday evening just catching up, enjoying the warm evening - we went downtown to a Japanese restaurant where I had my very first sushi! Well, it was veggie sushi but it's better than never trying it...

Yesterday we were supposed to go to Mel and Jeremy's wedding, but due to my stupidity (what a surprise!) we never made it there... Long story short, I never checked the train or bus timetables because I had once been in Melissa's hometown and we'd gone there by train so I assumed it was as easy this time around. That'll teach me!! That time we had actually gotten the train to a completely different town, and Mel's Mum had picked us up and brought us home. There is no train to her hometown, the bus only runs there a couple of times a week, and the train we'd gotten before only runs once a day!! So a hire car is the only way...
So off we went to try and hire a car, and this is where the fates kicked in and decided it just wasn't going to happen... Our driving licences and our passports were in Wayne's house, where someone had forgotten to leave the back door unlocked for us so we couldn't get at them... As well as that, the bus on the way home was delayed due to a car being on fire outside the station, and even more of a subtle hint? The only hire place we knew of was closed all day!!

We'll definitely make it on Saturday though as we're booking a hire car tomorrow and we're leaving here first thing on Saturday morning - what are the chances we won't make it there on time for 8 o'clock??

Tuesday, May 30


Location: Limerick
Miles Travelled: 0

Just finished our last pre-trip planning session. We've managed to sort our insurance, our oz visa and our beautiful convertible car (hee hee) and also accommodation for Vancouver, San Fran and Hawaii (3 of the 4 islands - we just need to figure out how we'll get from one to other, suggestions welcome as always!).

Nothing packed yet but that will be started tonight (or in my case when I buy my case :o) )

Thats all the news for now.