2008 marked the first calendar year I did not step foot inside the United States or its territories.
What is amazing about traveling is how much you remember. Before I left on my trip, one day would sort of blur into the next. You develop a routine every day and it becomes hard to remember what happened on what date, or sometimes even what year.
I can remember pretty much everything since I’ve started traveling. It’s sort of spooky. All the rooms I’ve stayed in, people I’ve met, and places I’ve visited. For those of you who haven’t been following along for that long, here is the summary of the last 12 months:
I rang in 2008 in Bandar Seri Begwan in Brunei. As the country is Muslim, and hence doesn’t serve alcohol, it probably isn’t high on the places you want to party on New Year’s Eve. From Brunei I went south by bus to Miri in Sarawka, Malaysia. The bus ride was the first border crossing by land I had on my trip (everything had been island jumping up to that point). I stayed at a longhouse outside of Miri for a few days before flying to Mulu National Park, the place I rated the #1 natural World Heritage site I’ve visited so far.
From Mulu I flew to Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysia, which requires a totally different passport stamp than Sarawak. The goal there was to climb Mount Kinabalu, but that got nixed due to rain on the mountain. The mountain was stunning and I wish I had better weather to explore.
From Kota Kinabalu I flew to Jakarta and then to Yogjakarta where I visited Borobudur and Prambanan. The volcano which overlooks Yogjakarta, Mount Merapi, was covered in clouds and I was only able to see the summit when I was leaving town. While I was in Indonesia, the long time dictator Sukharto died, and my bus drove through his funeral procession in Solo.
On the way to Bali I stopped in Problinggo and visited Mount Bromo, where I took one of my favorite photos: Mount Bromo as Mount Doom. I arrived in Bali at the end of the month and hung out there for about two weeks. The bungalow I had was great and was picked for me by a cab driver to took picked me up at the bus station.
I met Dave from GoBackpacking.com in Bali and did the standard tour of the island. Bali is great and I’d never miss an opportunity to go back.
On the way to Australia I flew to East Timor, where I was there for a few days. There isn’t a whole lot to see in East Timor and the country is really in a sad state from so many years of fighting. The morning I left Dili to go to Darwin, there was an assassination attempt on the President and Prime Minister. I didn’t know what was going on at the time, but there was a lot of activity that morning at the airport. When I got to Darwin, a police officer met us on the runway to tell us what happened and if we knew anything, we should contact them.
The rest of the month I spent in Melbourne waiting for my passport to get renewed and for a new bank card to arrive from the US. Melbourne is probably my favorite city in Australia, and one of my favorite in the whole world. I was there at a great time of year, I was a block away from the botanical gardens, and it was overall just swell. That was the longest stretch I stayed in one spot in my entire trip.
Eventually I left the womb which had become Melbourne and hit the road. I rented a car and drove down the Great Ocean Road and up to Mildura in the outback of Victoria. From there I visited Mungo National Park, which was a very pleasant surprise, and a place I highly recommend.
From Mungo I drove across country Victoria to New South Wales and the Snowy Mountains where I climbed (walked) up Mount Kosciuszko, the highest point in Australia. It sounds much more impressive than it really is. Most of the vertical distance is covered by ski lift.
From there I visited Canberra and the Australian Parliament building and the Australian War Museum, which is actually a very good museum. After Canberra I drove to Sydney where I did my now habitual “stay-too-long-in-a-big-city” routine. I did most of the tourist things there is to do including the Harbor Bridge climb and took my iconic photos of the Sydney Opera house.
At the end of the month I flew to Tasmania where I stayed on Hobart and did some day tours on the island. I froze my butt off there and probably experienced the coldest conditions of my trip. I’d love to go back to Tasmania for a longer stay and be there for warmer weather.
April took me back to Sydney for more sitting around, and eventually my trip up the coast to Cairns. The Sydney to Cairns run is probably the most popular trip for people who are exploring Australia. The east coast is the most lush part of the country and in Queensland there are significant tracts of rainforest. I made several stops along the way including Brisbane, Arilie Beach, and Townsville. I was able to visit four World Heritage sites during this stretch: Fraser Island, Great Barrier Reef, Gondwana Rainforests of Australia, and the Wet Tropics of Queensland . My time on Fraser Island was rainy for most of the day, but I did manage to sneak in a short 15 min plane flight over the island where I was able to take some great photos.
In Cairns I once again hung around too long enjoying the weather, but also got to be an underwater photographer for a day with Peter Mooney, a local underwater photographer in Cairns. Most of my good underwater photos are from that day on the reef.
My Australian visa was going to expire, so I had to do a visa run. That is easier said than done when you are on an island with no close neighbors. The closest country to Cairns was Papua New Guinea, and I wanted to visit there anyhow, so I decided to go diving in Kimbe Bay on the island of New Britain. I was a bit apprehensive about visiting PNG, but in the end it turned out to be just fine. I stayed at the wonderful Walindi Dive Resort and saw tress full of fireflies, a sunken Japanese Zero, and tons of coral in the warmest water I’ve ever dove in.
The end of May saw me back in Darwin where I visited Kakadu National Park and began my three week voyage across the Outback to Perth.
The trip across Western Australia was one to remember. It is hard to grasp just how big Australia is until you have had to cross it by land. The drive took me to the Bungle Bungles where I saw the bee hive domes, Exmouth where I swam with whale sharks, Shark Bay where I gazed upon the stromatolites, and the oddly colored sand of the Pinnacle Desert north of Perth. I spent about two weeks in Perth (not the best time of year to visit I have to admit) and later went south to spend a week in the Margaret River wine region.