Just Like Barry Gibb, or ….The Streets of Sydney

My first day in Sydney was very nerve wracking. I think it might be the worst city for driving I’ve ever seen. I had to get to my hostel which was an adventure in itself. Once I found it, I had to get on the correct road and in the correct lane to turn into an alley to park. Doing that was a trick because so many of the streets did not allow for turns or had meridians.

The drop off point for the rental car was also an adventure. It was down a small side street with three other rental companies. There were two trucks delivering new cars blocking the street. It took me over two hours to drop off my things and drop off the car.

The area in Sydney I’m in is probably the single biggest concentration of hostel beds in the world. If it isn’t number one, it has to be close. Everything in this area is budget this and backpacker that. I think I’m going film a podcast episoded on the backpacker culture, because there is nothing really like this in the states. (Maybe in New York or LA. Those seem to be the only places the people I meet visit in the US.)

I’m also a bit underwhelmed by Sydney. It doesn’t really seem as nice as Melbourne. Maybe that is why every single photo or news clip of this city is shot in front of the opera house.

… or perhaps I’m just not giving it a fair shake. Tomorrow I’ll have a fresh start. Everyplace around here is booked because of the Easter weekend. That seems to be a four day holiday in Australia.

I also have most my photos from the Great Ocean Road now up on Flickr. The remainder are processed and waiting to be uploaded tomorrow. Some really turned out nice.

Sydney Or The Bush!

Tomorrow brings this leg of the Australia adventure to an end. My very roundabout trip from Melbourne to Sydney has taken me to the Great Southern Ocean, 105F (40C) degree temperature in Mungo National Park, the top of the continent, and to the canyons of the Blue Mountains.

I’m about halfway through the Great Ocean Road Photos and hope to have to Mungo and Blue Mountain Photos up on Flickr by the end of tomorrow. I’ll explore Sydney for about 4 days I figure before I head off to either Tasmania or Lord Howe Island, depending on flights.

I ended up sleeping for 4 hours this afternoon. I’ve done a lot of walking this past week and my body has been sore. Also, I only tend to get 5-6 hours sleep a night.

Oh, my little website has been nominated for the 2008 Traveloution Awards in the Best Consumer Blog category.

  • Travel Mail Blog
  • Viator Blog
  • Select World Travel
  • Travel Rants

I am really the odd guy out on that list. Travel Mail is the travel website for the London Globe and Mail newspaper. Viator is a rather large and well-funded travel sites that list 42 contributors to their blog. Select World Travel is an agency which does tours. Travel Rants tends to fit the traditional blog mold, but they have been around a while and have a pretty large readership. In fact, if you click on the link and look at all the other categories, I really look out of place. They are all really big companies.

I feel like the guy who shows up to the Oscars wearing a baby blue tuxedo that was last worn in 1978 while everyone else has on diamonds and designers dresses. To give you an idea, I’m typing this on the floor of a youth hostel.

That being said, it is nice to know that people take notice of what you are doing. It’s an honor to be listed with other high-quality sites. Hopefully, I can keep it up and keep things interesting as I travel.

*The title of this post comes from old Peanuts comics I read. Like Charlie Brown, I’m not totally sure what it means.

In the Blue Mountains

I am currently in Katoomba, New South Wales. The drive to here from Canberra wasn’t that far, but it took me four hours. I got lost leaving Canberra because I couldn’t find any clear signs in town showing the way out, nor was there any sort of clear indication how to do it on my map. I eventually had to end up doing things like looking at the shadows on cars to figure out where north was and sort of muddled my way out of town.

I then encountered a detour on a highway where the detour sign simply pointed away from the road, and there were no other signs telling you how to get back on the road. I just turned left at every opportunity and eventually it worked.

Katoomba isn’t far from Sydney and is in the Blue Mountains National Park. It is a small tourist town like so many I’ve seen in other countries. Unlike other towns where the main attraction may be several miles out of town, Katoomba is literally on the edge of a canyon. A pretty big canyon too. I was able to walk down the road for about 20 minutes with my camera and get to the edge of the canyon to take photos at sunset. It is almost like having a city on the edge of the Grand Canyon.

Tomorrow I’ll explore some more of the town and some of the near by caves which were suggested in the comments by some readers. After that I’m off to Sydney. Before I go to Tasmania, I need to send my old camera bag home. I’ve packed it with crap I don’t want to carry around any more. I’ve managed to lighten my bag considerably. I’ve also purchased two large zip-lock bags for my clothes. They have an air escape valve so I can roll the bags up like they were vacuum sealed bags and I save a considerable amount of space.

Oh, has anyone gotten the post cards I’ve sent from Bali yet? I haven’t heard from anyone. I would have thought they would have arrived by now. I don’t know if they travel by sea or air. If you’ve gotten one, let me know.

Boy, Is My Face Red

Well, I survived the summit, or to be more accurate, the hike on a paved path up a hill. However, I got a good dose of sun while I was out walking. I probably walked about 8 miles (15 km) yesterday. The only reason my sunburn isn’t worse is that I was pretty tanned before yesterday. It was the first day I wore socks and boots in over a month and I now have a tan line where my socks were.

I’m in Canberra today. I’ll be here for two nights before I head to the Blue Mountains, then drop my car off in Sydney. Now that I’m in Canberra again, I’m sort of back on the backpackers circuit in Australia. Lots of early 20-somethings around. I fear what it will be like in Sydney.

From Sydney, I’ll send out some mail, explore the city, and then fly to Tasmania for a few days. If possible, I’ll try to fly to Lord Howe Island as well.

Today I’ll go visit the sites in Canberra (Parliament building, war memorial, etc) then try to get the photos I took from the last week up on Flickr.

Ascending the Summit

I’m am writing this from base camp.

Tomorrow I make the final push to the summit of Mount Kosciuszko, the highest peak on the Australian continent. Unlike Everest base camp, you don’t see as many tents and oxygen bottles here. Also, there are no sherpas. To climb Kosy, you have to carry your own gear. I didn’t bring my ice axe or my crampons, so I’ll have to improvise. They call these the Snowy Mountains after all. People have died on Kosciuszko. I won’t lie. This might be my last post. If it is, I’ll make sure to line up two weeks of daily photos for your entertainment.

Wish me luck.

Disclaimer: Most of the vertical distance covered on Mount Kosciuszko is via a ski lift. The current temperature in the area is in the 80sF (30C). I think the person who died on the summit was fat and old and had a heart attack. “Base Camp” is really an out of season ski lodge. The elevation of the Mount Kosciuszko summit is a little more than the average elevation of the entire state of Colorado.


I’m really glad I took the time to visit Mungo. It is really off the beaten path and is far from the “Wicked” camper van circuit. I’m also glad I paid for a guided tour. Had I gone out by myself, it could have been a potential disaster. It is 100 km of unpaved road with no buildings or stops on the way. It is hot, flat, desert. Factor in the cost of fuel, and it was well worth it. Not to mention our guide was great. He was an aboriginal man from the area who has been working in the park in every possible capacity for years.

I’m going to have to sit down for a few hours soon to plow through all the photos I’ve taken. Some of the ones from Mungo should turn out amazing. The sand dunes at sunset were really incredible.

Today I drove from Mildura to Bendigo in central Victoria. This is the heart of wine country in Victoria. I think I’ll visit a few wineries tomorrow before heading to Mount Kosciuszko.

My drive today was very hot and dusty. I encountered several dust devils and dust clouds which covered the road. Australia has been experiencing a drought for several years now and it seems pretty evident where I’ve been so far.

I also got my fill of rural Australian radio. It is pretty similar to rural radio in the US. Commodity prices this, fertilizer prices that.

I have 5 days to get to Sydney. I think I’m in good shape.

Driving On The Left

Since I’ve started my trip, I’ve rented cars in Hawaii, Easter Island, Fiji, New Zealand, Japan and Australia. As an American, I am accustomed to driving on the right-hand side of the road. I haven’t driven on the right, however, since I was in Easter Island back in May 2007. In fact, save for my time in South Korea, I haven’t been in a country where they drive on the right since early October.

Driving is something which becomes instinctive after a while. You don’t explicitly think about which side of the road you drive on. You don’t think about the difference between and left and right and turn. Once you learn how to drive, these are all things which get pushed to the back part of your brain and just do it.

However, once you are forced to drive on the other side, all those habits which have become automatic are forced to the forefront. Driving on the other side is like trying to write without crossing t’s or dotting i’s. It is so automatic, you have to think hard to break those habits.

I first had to drive on the left in New Zealand. For the first two hours, I had the radio turned off and had both hands gripped to the wheel. Every time I had to turn, I had to recite a mantra to myself “stay on the left, stay on the left, stay on the left”. The secret to driving on the other side, I always joke, is to try to kill yourself whenever you turn….and fail.

After a while, you do get used to it. The only time I ever find myself trying to drive on the right now is when I pull out of a parking lot. I think it is because parking lots (carparks here in Australia) don’t have defined lanes.

Even if you get used to driving on the other side, that doesn’t mean everything falls into place. The cars have the steering wheel on the other side, but it is not a mirror image of a left-hand drive car. For most things in the driver’s seat, things are just shifted over, not a mirror image. For example, the gas peddles are on the same side. You use your right foot to accelerate and brake. The rear view mirror is in the same spot, but you have to look to your left instead of your right, which took me a while to get used to. For awhile I would instinctively look up and to the right, only catch myself looking out the window.

The gear box is also the same, which means if you are driving a manual transmission car, you have have to shift towards you to upshift, with your left hand.

The one thing which is changed is the turn signal. I’m used to using my left hand to make a turn. However, in right-hand drive cars, it is on the right. I’ve caught myself turning on the windshield wipers several times when I was making a turn. It took a while, but I eventually figured out that the reason the turn signal is reversed is because the gear box isn’t. If you are shifting with your left hand, you have to use your right hand to turn.

I think most people would agree that it would be great if everyone on Earth drove on the same side of the road. The problem is, it is a very difficult thing to change once you’ve picked a side. As far as I can tell, the only countries which drive on the left today are former British colonies plus Japan and Indonesia. Sweeden used to drive on the left but made the switch to the right back in 1968. They announced the switch years in advance and when the day arrived, they banned all driving for several days so there was an abrupt period of change. Some parts of Canada also drove on the left until the 1920s.

In most countries, when they drive on the left, the cars are right-hand drive and vice versa. However, this is not always the case. In the Bahamas, they drive on the left, but given their proximity to the US, they drive mostly left-hand drive cars. (the drive wouldn’t be near the median but near the shoulder of the road). Likewise, when I was in Palau and Kosrae, they drove on the right, but most of the cars were Japanese imports with right-hand drive.

I would consider myself a fully ambidextrous driver at this point. I really have no problem driving in busy cities, navigating roundabouts, or even remembering which side of the car I have to enter. I’m just glad I didn’t have to drive much in Melbourne. They have a weird rule where on many corners, you have to get in the left lane to make a right-hand turn (yes, you read that correctly. The make you cross a lane of traffic to make a turn.)

366 Days and Counting

It was one year ago today that I closed on my house and turned over the keys. The days leading up to closing on my house were hectic. I had a giant U-Haul full of crap I had to move to Wisconsin, I had more boxes of books and National Geographic Magazines (have I a rather large collection) than I realized and I miscalculated.

I didn’t sleep for about 48 hours at one stretch trying to finish packing everything.

Once I had everything packed, I had to actually get most of my clothes and my bag. Most of the stuff I have with me right now I purchased after I closed on my house. I didn’t have the time to really focus on trip stuff because I was so busy trying to tie up all the loose ends before I left.

I had about two week to get a new drivers license (which took forever due to an old speeding ticket I never paid in Minnesota), get all my camera gear, get a laptop, buy clothing, buy bags….everything. I had no list other than an internal one in my head. It all worked out for the best. I still have stuff in my bag I’ve never used like bandages and such. I’ve been throwing some stuff out the last few days in an effort to reduce the weight of my bag.

Looking back on the past year, If there is one thing that I didn’t expect from this trip it was the fact that I can remember everything. The previous several years before sort of all blurred together. It isn’t as if I have Alzheimer’s, but when you do something isn’t necessarily something which you can recall instantly. Doing the same thing every day makes it all become the same thing.

I can remember every room I’ve stayed in, every city, every plane flight, every day. If I can’t say the exact date I was in a place, I can probably tell you to within a week. Things tend to stand out when it changes every day.

In the last year I’ve been to the tops of mountains, 100 feet under the sea, flown on helicopters, been to uninhabited islands, seen ancient ruins, been to the world’s largest cities, been inside active volcanoes, had monkeys on top of my head,and been within a mile of political assassination attempt. I’ve seen refugee camps and palaces. I’ve been in deserts, rainforests, mountain ranges and glaciers. I’ve meet some of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. Oh, yesterday I almost hit a kangaroo with my car…

The only regret I have is not doing this earlier.

I get a lot of questions like: “do you ever get lonely?”, “do you ever get homesick?” Well, sometimes, but if I just focus on what is I’m actually doing, it passes pretty fast. I’m doing something with only a small percentage of people will ever do. Something only a sliver of a fraction of a percent of humanity could ever even have thought of doing. I’ve may have seen more than Captain Cook or Macro Polo.

Where will I be one year from now? No clue. I pretty much play it by ear. I know roughly where I’ll be over the next few months, but beyond that I don’t know where I’ll go. Driving around Australia will take a while and from there I’m going to PNG, then flying to Singapore and up through SE Asia to China. Once I’m done with Australia, the cost of my trip should decrease dramatically. The island hopping will be done and most of the countries I’ll be visiting from there on out will be pretty cheap. I dread Europe with the dollar like it is.

I also want to say thank you to everyone who reads the site. Writing this blog is a way for me to keep in touch with people and I do get enjoyment knowing that other people are following along. I’ve had more people get in touch with me that I knew from college and high school than I have since I graduated. Funny how you have to leave the country to have that happen :)

Mungo Ahoy!

I’m currently in Horsham, Victoria at the tourist information center because they seemed to be the only place that had an internet terminal.

The enormity of Australia is starting to sink in as I have to actually drive it. You can understand it intellectually, but until you have to actually cross it, it really doesn’t sink in. The funny thing is, Victoria is one of the small states.

Today I’m heading north into the outback region of New South Wales to Mungo National Park, part of the Wilandra Lakes World Heritage Site. It is lots of desert. Should have some stunning photos.

After that, I’m coming back into Victoria to the wine region and then I’m going to “climb” Mount Kosciusko, the highest peak in Australia and one of the Seven Summits. (Climb isn’t really the right word. You take a cable car half of the way up from what I understand. The rest is an easy hike.)

Speaking of photos, I took 6gb of photos on the Great Ocean Road. Just stunning. I’m running out of space on my computer/external HD. I’m burning old stuff to DVD every night. Internet access, as in most rural areas, isn’t very good. Gas is very expensive. I’m paying AUS$50 for about half a tank.