Location:  Cairns

I did it!. I walked up the “mountain” that makes up most of Fitzroy Island.  It is only 883 feet high.  The track up the hill is steep at times.  The actual trail is about 1.8 Kilometers.  Not much for most people but in my trying to get back to responsible shape it was an accomplishment.

Fitzroy Island is what is known as a continental Island.  A continental island is an island that is formed when a body of water rises separating the island from a larger land mass.  What makes this island so interesting is that a reef has grown up around the Island making it very accessible for viewing, snorkeling, and swimming.  You just have to be careful of the coral as the beaches are full of broken coral warn down by the sea.  So, bring your beach shoes.

The Island is about a 45-minute ferry ride from Cairns Australia (about 30 Kilometers).  It is basically south east of Cairns.  It is off Djujbirri (formally Cape Grafton).

Coral on the beach on Fitzroy Island

We bought a package deal, ferry, lunch, snorkeling equipment, glass-bottom boat ride for about $110.00.  It was a full day of sun, beach, swimming, and walking.  The lunch included a chicken wrap, a ham and cheese sub sandwich, apple, snack bar, apple juice, and water.

There is a resort on the Island which meant that there was a bar and restaurant.  So, if you only wanted to take the ferry to the Island you could do that and then purchase your meals there.

I think that in some future adventures I would like to take the family to the resort for a long weekend.  It certainly seemed calm and quiet.

Location: Sydney

Crossed another item off the bucket list.  I have always wanted to go to a professional rugby game.  Last time I was down under, everyone but me went to a match as I was dealing with a family problem at the time.  This time I got to go.  Took five students with me this time.

We saw the South Sidney Rabbitohs play the Paramatta Ells of the National Rugby League.  The secondary excitement with this event was that it was held in ANZAC Stadium, home of the 2000 Summer Olympics.  There were 17,077 people at the match and it looked like the stadium was empty (capacity is now just over 85,000).  The stadium was huge.  The nice thing about it was that although it was pouring rain, the seating was covered so we were all dry.

One of the outcomes of going is that I think that I finally have an understanding of Rugby.  It may not be complete, but it is enough that I can finally see the goals and strategy involved.  My next big task it to figure out the difference between rugby leagues and unions.  How the national teams fit in and how all the different cup plays fit in.

It was also fun to see the fans.  They certainly do not have to take a back seat to fans in the states.  The cheering section for the Rabbitohs was every bit as excited, boisterous, ritualized, and loud as the Doug Pound in Cleveland, Block O at Ohio State, or as loud as the Bears fans.  The difference is that they do not seem to be as fueled with alcohol.  There did not seem to be any tailgating at the stadium.  The fans that want to drink and watch go to a pub.  The pubs are where the alcohol flows and the arguments seem the loudest.

Getting to the stadium was easy.  Our hostel is next to the Central Railway stadium.  We took the Western line train from tack 18 to Lidcombe Station.  From Lidcomde station there is a shuttle train that takes you right to Olympic stadium.  It was painless getting there and back.

Oh, and the score,  Rabbitohs 30 and the Ells 6.  Rabbitohs are in first place in the league and the Eels are in last.

9/20/2013 Update - Rabbitohs are in  the Preliminary Finals (that is a new one, not only finals but Finals Week, Semi-Finals, Preliminary Finals, and Finals)

Skipper’s Canyon was the site for what I believe was the third major gold rush in New Zealand in the early 1860’s (just after the New Zealand wars).  At its peak, about 3000 people lived and mined in the canyon.  The road in took about 25 years to build (by hand) and is now a single lane dirt track that goes about 22 kilometers into the canyon.

The scenery was beautiful.  But, even more interesting is that the family that lives in the canyon run a small museum that includes items that they have retrieved from the canyon over the years.  Our tour was lead by the 4th generation daughter.  We got to see family photographs, hear the family stories, see the relics of the mining operations, get a lesson in how they mined the riverbed, and even got to have tea.

The sun even came out after three days of grey and rain.

I asked Ms Winky (yep, that is her real name) about living in such isolation.  She said that in this day it was not really a problem.  They do stock up but with helicopters there really was no problem when the road washed out (they have their own helicopter pad).  She talked about how last winter they were only isolated for six weeks when the road washed out.  We did pass several areas that were starting to wash out and two sink holes in the road and it is still early in the winter.

View out the windowGold fields

The road is one of the few in New Zealand where if you take a rental car on to the road, it voids your insurance.  Vehicles are warned that they need to have chains and four-wheel drives to travel the road.  The road is made mostly of finely ground rock from the glaciers so that when it gets wet it becomes really deep and slick mud.

Two stories to demonstrate to point.  One, the blacksmiths used to create special horse shoes with a bard across the bottom of the shoe and bend the tips of horseshoe down to create grips for the horses for the ice.  Two, a farmer in the canyon used to hire out his oxen to help pull the wagons up a steep grade on the road.  One time, some travelers explored the top part of the hill and discovered that the farmer had diverted water to make the road wet and slippery so that he could charge people for the use of his oxen team.  He was tried and found innocent.  He was found several days later, floating down the river.  Frontier justice.

There was a hotel in the canyon.  The hotel owner used to advertise for barmaids in Dunedin.  He would pay their way to the hotel to work.  The average length of employment for the barmaids was about three days before they were married to a miner who had struck it rich and leaving.  So, being industrious, the hotel/bar owner advertised for ugly bar maids.  Hoping to at least keep one.  The only change?  The average length of employment went from three days to six days.

horse snow shoes

Ever since I went partially 

down Skipper’s Canyon in 2006, I wanted to see the rest of it.  So, I finally go to experience it.  Cross that item off.




 Location:  Sydney

This is the fifth time that I have been on this basic trip.  In previous experiences, it would rain a day or two during the entire 33 days.  This is the first time that it has rained the majority of the 33 days (so far).  On the bright side, it was not as cold this trip and we missed the major snow falls that hit the islands while we were there.

When we do the orientation for the program we do explain that the field experience occurs during the winter and that it is possible to get bad weather.  In the event of bad weather, we would not cancel activities.  We would soldier on.  Program participants needed to take this into account when planning (bring warm clothes for New Zealand and rain gear).

The rain has had two compensating factors.  We saw many rainbows (five just today waiting for our flight from Auckland to Sydney) and waterfalls.  I know that that last sentence sounds like the lyrics to some sickly syrupy song, but it is true.

Hopefully by the time we get to Cairns and Port Douglas the weather will clear.

That NZ$1,000 bottle of wine Location:  Queenstown

One evening in Queenstown, Leigh, Melanie, and I went to Winetastes (http://www.winetastes.co.nz/); a unique opportunity to taste over 80 wines in one evening.  Okay, we did not get through all 80 wines, but we did get to taste quite a few.


The system works as follows.  You get a card with a magnetic strip on it.  The wine has a dispensing system that protects the wine and provides 15, 150, or 300 ml allocations (taste, half-glass, full-glass).  You are charged for each allocation.  It is a fun way to spend the evening.

And yes, I did try the most expensive wine, a NZ$1,000 bottle of wine Penfields’ Grange Shiraz 2008 (the taste was NZ$35.00).  Boy, was it worth it.

The shop carried over 700 different wines (95% of them from New Zealand).  We could only find one wine from the States, a few from France, and several form Australia.

As the evening progressed, we decided to get a cheese tray and each of us selected a glass of wine to have with the tray.

And for those that do not like wine, they did offer several types of New Zealand beers and several whiskeys (also for tasting).

A fun evening trying wines we would probably never buy and at a reasonable cost