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Critters down under, and even further down under
Jan 11th, 2010 by Phoebe

When we first came to Australia we stayed on a farm, and they had alpacas, cows, dogs, chickens (aka “Chucks”), dogs, cats and a lot of macadamia nut trees.

This is me and Ian feeding the bull!  Nice bull.

This is me and Ian feeding the bull! Nice bull.

This was their big French Bull.  There were 150 girl cows and only one bull.  I got to mix up his feed.  He was SO big that I was scared of him, but he was really nice and let me pet him when he was eating.

Aren't they SO cute!!!

Aren't they SO cute!!!

Next are the alpacas.  Alpacas are like small llamas but they don’t spit as much, they are very skittish, and their fur is really soft.  Alpacas like water, so when you spray them with the hose they are happy.

The rooster at the farm didn’t do his cockle-do’s early in the morning, he did them once everyone woke up so that was really nice.

One time in the morning Ian (the owner of the farm) moved the cows into the pasture behind the house.  The moowing was so loud that my mom woke up because she thought there was a cow on the back porch.

This is my favorite calf Lucky.

This is my favorite calf Lucky.

My favorite cow was a calf named Lucky.  Her mom died after she was born so we needed to hand feed her and she was very nice.  I helped mix up her milk, and after she was done eating if I would run along side her paddock she would chase me.  She also liked to lick me and her super long tongue was like sandpaper and she could wrap her whole tongue around my arm.  If my cousin Jack was an animal I think he would be a cow because he also has a super long tongue and can touch his tongue to his nose.

Me feeding Lucky.  I gave her a bucketful of milk twice a day.  She would stick her whole head in the bucket and get milk all the way up to her ears!  It was SO funny.  Sorry I didn't get a picture!

Me feeding Lucky. I gave her a bucketful of milk twice a day. She would stick her whole head in the bucket and get milk all the way up to her ears! It was SO funny. Sorry I didn't get a picture!

On the farm their were cuckobara birds who have a really loud evil sounding laugh.  Tessa sang the Cukubara  song that we learned back in Ms Pams class like a thousand times.  We also saw ibus, and they have really long beaks that they use to get grubs out of the ground.

Then we went to Brisbane and went to a koala reserve and I got to hold a koala.  Koalas are marsupials, which means they have a pouch.  They don’t get much energy from their food so they sleep a lot.  They eat only eucalyptus leaves (aka “Gum Tree leaves”), and they only eat the tips of the leaves.  There are 80 types, and they use their nose to decide which kinds to eat.  The males have white chests and have special oils that they leave on the trees to mark their territories.  Every koala looks different.  Some have dots on their backs, some of their noses look different, and their ears might have long fur or short fur.  When I held the koala, it felt very heavy for how small it was, and its fur felt very dense, thick and soft.

Me and the koala!

Me and the koala!

This is a kangaroo - see how its much bigger.  Tessa was hoping they'd be big enough to ride but their not.

This is a kangaroo - see how its much bigger. Tessa was hoping they'd be big enough to ride but their not.

Next we went in to a kangaroo enclosure and got to walk around and feed the kangaroos and wallabees.  We got to feed a baby kangaroo and pet it.  Baby kangaroos are called “joeys”.  One of the joeys was too big for its mom’s pouch but it still climbed in.  It went in head first and then turned itself around but it was so big its head, back legs and tail hung out.  It was totally folded in half and looked really funny.

See the joey folded in half in the pouch?  Its head has the ears pointing down, its legs are behind the head, and its tail is behind the foot.  Poor mama roo!

See the joey folded in half in the pouch? Its head has the ears pointing down, its legs are behind the head, and its tail is behind the foot. Poor mama roo!

Our friend Nick told us that the kangaroo is the national animal of Australia and that they are the only country that eat their national symbol.

At the sanctuary there were also a lot of wild turkeys walking around.  We also saw really big lizards and wambats.  Tessa thinks they are adorable.  I think they look like furry pigs with falt furry snouts, but I do have to admit that they are cute.

In Australia, they protect everything – koalas, turkeys, and even crows.  It seems that the only thing you are allowed to kill is the cane toad.  (Not that I was looking from something to kill)

Next we went to Noosa heads and there I saw a giant hunter spider.  If you spread out your fingers, it went from finger tip to finger tip but they are harmless.  I did learn though that 9 of the 10 most deadly animals in the world are from Australia, like the box jellyfish, the blue ringed octopus, and a bunch of their snakes.

We are now in New Zealand and it is the weirdest thing – they didn’t have any land mammals until the Maoris brought some over, and then the Europeans brought more.  So far I have been to a bunch of museums here in New Zealand so I have seen a LOT of stuffed animals.  The only real animals I have seen are cows and SHEEP!  There are sheep everywhere!

I will take some pictures of them and post them soon!  Bye!

Lucky lucky convicts…
Jan 10th, 2010 by Kate
The Sydney Opera house is way cooler than we ever imagined!  A MUST see!

The Sydney Opera house is way cooler than we ever imagined! A MUST see!

Sydney is a really really beautiful city in a really beautiful country.  From what I’ve read, it was pretty harsh for the convicts that were sent over here in the 1700’s, but the hardships of the settlers really set up thieir decedents for the good life!

One of many great historic rooftops in Sydney

One of many great historic rooftops in Sydney

Sydney is a water city.  The harbour has a zillion waterways, and the land surrounding the harbour is very hilly, so you can barely turn a corner without a beautiful view.  There is a serious amount of really primo waterfront real estate, and there is a great mix of old 1850’s-1920’s architecture with a healthy dose of really excellent modern architecture thrown in for good measure.  There are hip old neighborhoods with great shopping districts everywhere, and lots of parks.

The Royal Botanical Garden roses, and the American roses

The Royal Botanical Garden roses, and the American roses

The Botanical Garden is smack dab in the best part of town – and its FREE!  We wondered around there for hours enjoying the native plants and formal gardens, but the highlight of the garden was definitely the BATS!  There were thousand upon thousands of them.  The are called “flying foxes” and are quite giant but have faces like cute little fox puppies. 

Yes, all those black dots in the tree are bats with a 2-3 foot wingspan!

Yes, all those black dots in the tree are bats with a 2-3 foot wingspan!

flying bat

The backside of the garden runs along the harbour and has the most wonderful view of the Sydney Opera House.  It is magnificent.  I definitely think it is one of the most amazing buildings in the world.  The sailboats on the harbour and the roof of the opera house against the blue blue sky and the blue blue water made for one of the prettiest sites I have ever seen.  I took pictures, but they don’t even do them a bit if justice.

We splurged and took the behind-the-scenes tour of the Opera House that afternoon.  It was originally expected to take 3 years to build and cost $7 million.  It took 13 years and cost $112 million – and was totally worth it.  There are precious few things in the man-made world that can compete with the wonders of nature as far as beauty goes – but a building like this gives nature a good run for its money.

Tessa on the purple stairs in the opera house

Tessa on the purple stairs in the opera house

In Sydney we stayed with a great family that we met while in China – Jenny, Jerome, Georgia, and Maddie.  Jenny and the girls had befriended our friends the Terrell’s in Yangshou before we arrived to meet up with them, and Julie Terrell introduced us.  Jenny and I only chatted for a few minutes while in China, but she is a vagabond soul sister and invited us to stay with them while in Sydney.  As it turned out, they were on a family holiday when we were planning on being in Sydney – but they very generously let us stay in their house while they weren’t even there.  We did have a really fun 24 hours with them on New Years Eve though!  A shout out to the Briggs Fink family – we’ll see you in Sydney again soon!

Sydney is my new favorite big city – its like a really good mix of San Fran, Seattle, and Vancouver.  I’m going back.

A street perfomer in Sydney blew these giant bubbles, Phoebe entertained the crowd by blowing the huge bubbles around

A street perfomer in Sydney blew these giant bubbles, Phoebe entertained the crowd by blowing the huge bubbles around

Australia – the land of nice people!
Jan 9th, 2010 by Kate
Even though we’re now in New Zealand and I have SO much to write about THIS amazing country – I must go back to Australia as my last email certainly did not do it justice.  Might I suggest going and making yourself “a cuppa” and settling down in front of your computer because I’ve been slacking on the blog writing and I’m about to make up for some lost time!

 I really can’t even begin to talk about Australia until I tell you about the people.  I’m going to go out on a limb here and make a whopping generalization – but I reckon Australians just might be the nicest people on earth.  They are friendly and helpful and outgoing and really just plain fun.  All of them.  Yep.   

 In the month that we were in Australia we camped for 6 days and the entire rest of the time we stayed with Australians that we met while traveling in countries other than Australia, or through couchsurfing.com.  And while we find the country of Australia beautiful and fascinating, in retrospect, it ends up that the people were the highlights of our entire month!

This is the view from our bedroom window on Ian & Leone's beautiful farm.  They have 4,500 macadamia nut trees, 150 head of cattle, and about 50 really cute alpaca! Plus a swimming pool and tennis court - my kind of farm!

This is the view from our bedroom window on Ian & Leone's beautiful farm. They have 4,500 macadamia nut trees, 150 head of cattle, and about 50 really cute alpaca! Plus a swimming pool and tennis court - my kind of farm!

 We met Ian and Leone (Ian is Phoebe’s new best friend – sorry girls back at school, she likes you too but you don’t have alpacas and let her work in your macadamia nut factory) in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam and stayed at their beautiful farm on the Gold Coast.  I think I already mentioned that I found this farm to be a little slice of paradise – and our time here was exactly what we needed after 4 months in Asia.  The air was clean, the scenery right out of one of my favorite magazines, and Ian is one of the most genuine people I have ever met.  Phoebe and Ian were inseperatable the entire time we where there (because she followed Ian around relentlessly) and I dare to say that both of them loved every minute of their time together.  Ian needs to be a grandpa (and soon!) – he will be one of the best ever if his time with Phoebe was any indication.  He was interesting, an incredibly hard worker, funny, kind, and amazingly patient.  I’m so sad that I didn’t get pictures of Phoebe and Ian working side by side in the “nut house” (the macadamia nut processing plant) or Phoebe working at Ian’s booth at the local farmer’s market.  Both are memories that I hold dear and that I know Phoebe will remember forever.

Our view from the porch...

Our view from the porch...

After Billinugel, we moved on to Brisbane.  We met our Greg the old fashion way, through the couchsurfing website, and he spoiled us rotten in Brisbane.  Greg drove all the way down to Coolegata to pick us up, and in addition to letting us stay at his great place, he lent us his car and GPS so we could terrorize the City!  What a great city and a great new friend!  Brisbane is definately a city that deserves some more exploring – we drove by tons of hip looking cafes and a ton of great looking clothing and shelter stores… maybe someday when the US dollar is stronger against the Australian dollar I’ll come back and and do some further retail exploration!

The most fun way to explore Brisbane (Brisy) is by boat - the river runs right through the middle of the City.  We took it to the Contemporary Art Museum - a super wonderful day in a great museum in a great city!

The most fun way to explore Brisbane (Brisy) is by boat - the river runs right through the middle of the City. We took it to the Contemporary Art Museum - a super wonderful day in a great museum in a great city!

And the Kanters in Noosa – we go WAY back with them… all the way back to our hostel in Osaka, Japan!  We had a total blast in Noosa – staying with them was like being at a top rate bed and breakfast, and their kids Nick and Annika were some of the coolest teenagers I’ve ever met.  Noosa reminded us of La Jolla in California (a lot of Australia has reminded us of CA, but with a LOT fewer people and lots more open space).  Pieter and Jane were SUCH amazing hosts – Jeff and I felt like we had known them for years and our friendship came very easy.  They are both teachers and have really great outlooks on life, and on raising kids.  It is so refreshing to come across people (halfway around the world too, imagine that!)  that share similar values about family and friends and the bigger world.  It was also great for the girls to be around teenagers who are fun, respectful, good students, and good people. 

The Wells and Kanters clans

The Wells and Kanters clans

 In Noosa we hiked, beached, kayaked, shopped, went to the movies (movies are OUTRAGOUSLY expensive down under – kids tickets were $16 and adults $22!) and (not so proudly) my kids introduced the Kanters kids to “The Office”.  An “Office” marathon was the highlight of the week for ALL the kids – I think when it was all said and done they managed to get through the first four sessions in their entirety!

 We can’t wait to see the Kanters again, and we hope they’ll put the US on their travel list soon (or at least send the kids out to us for the holidays!).

 After Noosa, we headed back to Brisbane for our flight down to Sydney.  We had a week to kill before Christmas, and didn’t have a plan (or a clue) about where we wanted to be.  Jeff really wanted to do some surfing, I wanted to lay around on the beach, hit a few farmer’s markets and explore the quaint beach towns, and the girls were looking for some kids to play with… so we decided to head to the beach south of Sydney.  We got into Sydney late at night, and couldn’t pick up our rental car until the next morning, so we spent the evening searching the internet for a cheap beach hotel.  And we had NO luck. 

 Australia is really expensive for us to travel in right now – their dollar is very strong against our dollar and they have had major inflation for about 8 years now so we really couldn’t find a single good deal that fit into our budget.  Have I mentioned ever that our budget is $150 a day for the four of us including travel, food and lodging?  We couldn’t find a single hotel even remotely close to any beach for less than $150 to start!

 We were just about to give up and book ourselves into this expensive, lame hotel when this bright green van drove by that said “JUICY” on it.  It was yet another “campervan” that we’d seen all over the Gold and Sunshine Coasts.  For those of you that don’t know this about Australia, they are obsessed with camping.  Many families have their own campervans, but for those that don’t, they have a zillion rental companies (“JUICY” being one of the biggest) that rent all kinds of variations on on the campervan. 

 Phoebe said it first.  “Let’s see how much one of those costs – we can drive it instead of our rental car, and we can live in it too”.  Tessa (having camped more with me that Phoebe has) just rolled her eyes and said “yeah right”.  Jeff said he’d check it out.  I said I’d be game as long as we could get a hotel if it was raining.  So off Jeff and Phoebe went to find us a campervan of our very own.

 But the campervans were totally expensive too.  Two-hundred and fifty dollars a day!  They had one other option – a “camperwagon” for only $70 a day – and it came with a tent, a stove, some chairs, and some other random camping gear.   SOLD!

Our 1995 Ford Falcon camperwagon stationwagon was a real looker.  It had a giant “RENT ME” sign in the back window, a badly dented front bumper, and it shimmied when you went over 80km (about 50mph).  Our tent smelled really bad of mildew, and they forgot our stove.  And it rained on the very first night but it was too late at that point to find a proper hotel.  None of us were happy.

Tessa & Phoebe's bed for 6 nights - in the back of the ole Ford Falcon!

Tessa & Phoebe's bed for 6 nights - in the back of the ole Ford Falcon!

Our little camp site...

Our little camp site...

 But the “holiday park” was really nice – and in a zillion dollar location.  A really nice family moved in across the drive from us and let us borrow a tarp and some poles and Jeff fashioned a nice little living room for us.  Phoebe and I dragged a picnic table over from a empty campsite a few “pads” up – and a bottle of Fabreeze cleaned up the tent smell quite nice.  The sun came out, we got some fresh bread and some amazing local cheese from the farmers market, and even managed to find some proper surf boards to rent.  We had planned on staying for 2 nights, and we ended staying for SIX nights!

This was actually the view from our campsite - our favorite surfing beach was down the cliff on the left side of the pic about 100 meters

This was actually the view from our campsite - our favorite surfing beach was down the cliff on the left side of the pic about 100 meters

  

Phoebe being Phoebe...

Phoebe being Phoebe...

 Tessa and Phoebe, always being the center of their social worlds set about amassing a gang of trailer park kids – they played, swam, surfed, made up dances, learned the ins and outs of rugby, and highly amused the kids and their parents alike with their “American accents”.  It was for sure the best camping location in the world, and much to my surprise, it was a blast and I was sad to leave!  But the vagabonds that we are – we packed up the old Falcon and moved on…

The Surf Beach Holiday Park Gang - Tessa, Phoebe, Jai, Anna, Monique, and Jellena

The Surf Beach Holiday Park Gang - Tessa, Phoebe, Jai, Anna, Monique, and Jellena

And our reason for coming to Australia in December – Bobby – our fabulous friend we met through couchsurfing when she “surfed our couch” back in Phoenix in November of 2008.  She casually mentioned to us that we should stop by Canberra for Xmas, we are SURE never imagining that we’d actually take her up on it!

Day-after Christmas brunch with Bobbi & Chappo- she is a crazy good cook and fattened us up!

Day-after Christmas brunch with Bobbi & Chappo- she is a crazy good cook and fattened us up!

We had a great time in Canberra – everyone told us that Canberra was boring, but we totally enjoyed the National Gallery and their great science center called Questacon.  We had a quiet Christmas morning (Santa even managed to find us and brought the girls olives and pickles – their favorite gifts!) and then had a total Christmas dinner feast with Bobby and her fiance Ben (Chappo).  As an added bonus, a family of real wild kangaroos hopped thorugh the backyard while we finished dessert – a perfect ending to our Australian Christmas!

Not your typical Xmas treat - but we've been without olives and pickles for months so Santa scored a big goal with these treats under our Xmas plant (see plant in background).

Not your typical Xmas treat - but we've been without olives and pickles for months so Santa scored a big goal with these treats under our Xmas plant (see plant in background).

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