A Travellerspoint blog

January 2008

Ahoy New Zealand!

Auckland - The City of Sails


After enjoying eight straight weeks in Australia, the last of which was dampened by the daily dousing of a stubborn cyclone, we were ready to move on to our next country, New Zealand. We knew that the weather pattern would be different, that the Kiwi’s accents would be a tad flatter, and that the US dollar would be worth more here. After exchanging some dollars at the Brisbane Airport, we found out that two out of three ain’t bad.

Arriving in New Zealand seemed so easy compared to every other place we’ve landed. The kids have traversed the immigration-baggage claim-customs gauntlet enough to know what their roles are and how to proceed through the next station. Not all countries are the same, but similar enough to feel like we have “little helpers” instead of “little boat anchors” with us. This will only get better.

The short drive to Auckland by cab conjured up memories of Seattle and Vancouver, but not Australia. As we were shuttled toward the city, we navigated through streets and neighborhoods that had a haze of green on the brick facades telling us that rain isn’t a stranger in these parts. It’s a a funny thing about Auckland, but it didn’t feel like it had it’s “own” personality until you were down at the harbor, where it became immediately apparent why the place is called the city of sails. There were Americas cup sailing vessels parked in front of trendy restaurants that were bustling with Friday’s after-work business. We chose a nice “family casual” restaurant at the harbor side and had a good meal where you could cook your own meats at the table. Griffin was the only one to choose this option. He loved it all, but refused to eat the lamb. They’re too cute to eat. After walking back to our city center hotel, which was a Best Western and ironically the worst western hotel that we had stayed in, we read a bit, watched the asian news channel and talked about what we might do the next day. We actually had been to most of the places that were shown on the news that evening. The kids had an “aha” moment. They actually understood quite well what was going on with Taiwan, and commented on the clipped and near perfect diction of each asian reporter.

The kids wanted to visit the SkyTower that was literally just up the street. It seems that no postcard of Auckland is ever without the Sky Tower looming over the city. Standing over 1,000 feet, it dominates the skyline. We weren’t sure what the visit would entail, but we found out about our options that morning. We could eat in the restaurant at the top, climb the spire, take a daredevil walk around the outer ring of the observation deck, or jump off the observation deck attached to a cable. We opted to jump off. No, I’m not kidding. We all jumped off of the sky tower. After all, New Zealand is the adventure sports capital of the world, right?

The first stage of jumping off the top was going to the basement. What’s the old saying about only appreciating the top when you’ve hit rock bottom? We were suited up in our “flight” suits, weighed, harnessed, advised of our rights and responsibilities, and required to sign the inevitable waiver of liability. While we were going through all of this, videos streamed of folks merrily jumping off and gliding their way down to the “target”. We took some elevators to the observation deck and walked into a glass waiting area where we could watch the person before us leap to his umm… merry. Of course Dad got to go first. I walked into the staging area where I was asked to provide my weight to two different jump masters, and they both thoroughly checked me out and hooked me to a harness that would allow me to safely walk the gang plank to my inevitable plunge into the abyss. One of the jump dudes walked out with me and I was asked to look over the edge down to the target area which was about 650 feet below us. I looked over the edge with the grace and confidence of a pampered house cat that was about to be dropped into a backyard pool. A little less clingy perhaps, but not much. Looking over the edge was probably the freakiest part of the whole deal. They hooked me up to the cable that is supposed to suspend me in the air, unhooked me from the gang plank cable, and then sort of tugged on the cable and pulled me upward so I was just standing on my toes, balancing on the ledge of gang plank. Then one of the jump masters called, “On three, ok?” “One, Two, Three, Jump”. And so I made my move. I wouldn’t call it a jump really; more of a lean, or a teeter, and then the cable just dropped me about 30 feet, so I could dangle at table level for the folks in the restaurant below us, and so one of the jump masters could snap a photo of the oh-so serene look on my face. After the initial fear of standing on the ledge, it was surprisingly peaceful. Seriously. The choice was over, and now it was all about gravity. In any event it was out of my control, and it wasn’t a big deal. After the snap shot, I was dropped at about 80km per hour and in a matter of seconds I landed on the ground, pretty softly considering that just moments earlier, I was going 80kph. The kids followed me and Carol brought up the rear, making sure the kids got off the gang plank safely. They all had the same reaction I had. It was deathly frightening right before they jumped, but quite cool and even peaceful as they glided toward the ground. Unfortunately I won’t have any pictures of the jump until we’re in Christchurch about a month from now, but I promise to have those up, so you can see us dangle above the city.

That evening we celebrated our jump by going to the “Lord Nelson” restaurant directly next to our hotel, the Best Western New President Hotel. The food was fantastic, the Muscles were gigantic, and the Filet Mignon was the best I’ve had outside of Daniels Broiler in Seattle. If you’re in Auckland – you should check it out. It is a kitschy little place that’s 30 years old, but feels like 70, and has only a haggard front door marking the entrance of its cozy little brick and leather clad interior. You wouldn’t notice it at all, unless a local told you to check it out. It is awesome. Even the service was great, which is a rarity for both Australia and New Zealand as far as restaurants go.

The rest of our short time in Auckland was spent roaming around the city, going to the movies, taking a few busses around town and getting our bags ready for a month of motor home travel – which will be the next blog entry as we head toward the north end of the north of the island.

Posted by Blakei 14:50 Archived in New Zealand Tagged family_travel Comments (4)

Hal and Blake’s Excellent Adventure

Kiteboarding in Noosa

overcast 75 °F

Have you ever watched a Kiteboarder? Man, let me tell you that it is something to behold. I sat in my car one day on the coast Highway in Del Mar California and watched in befuddled amazement as a guy unfolded what looked like half of a parachute, attached some stings, slipped on a harness, stepped onto a wakeboard, then slowly floated this thing into the sky and took off at 20 knots across the face of the wind. He sliced through breaking waves and then skipped from top of swell to top of swell, launching himself 20 feet or so into the air every so often, only to land skipping off the tops of swells once again. Skip, skipskip, skippity, skip, launch, float, skip, skippity, skipskip… I was blown away. The whole thing looked so adrenaline producing, so simultaneously elegant, and so easy that I had dreamed myself into that harness many times since.

Fast forward to Noosa Australia, where we are staying for the month of December as we travel around the world. I’ve seen a few “KITEBOARDING!” brochures as we’ve strolled the town, which has dreamily conjured up visions of skipping across the swells, replacing the very obviously experienced guy in Del Mar with me. I mention to my buddy Hal that I would really like to take a Kiteboarding lesson and he’s on the phone the next day – finding out about the local scene. Seems Hal shares the delusion of skipping over the swell tops as well.

The next day, after a bit of a surfing at the Noosa river mouth with the family, we stumbled across a van that reads “www.noosakiteboarding.com.au 0404838773”. Hal called the number and spoke to Mike, the instructor who was just motoring across the river mouth in his inflatable boat, returning from a lesson. What seemed like seconds later he was standing beside us along with his student. The student, a 20 something Norwegian gal, had just stood on a board for the first time and went for about 200 meters. She wore an ear to ear grin. Another ex-student of Mike’s was just hanging out and watching Mike’s lesson. He was a recent retiree, and spoke of his lessons with Mike fondly and how he looks him up whenever he’s in town. This 60 year old retiree is now an avid Kiteboarder . “Hey, if a 60 year old can do it, no problem for a 48 year old, right?” I thought to myself. I should probably mention that he had the body of a 25 year old triathlete. Mike hung out and casually spoke with us about Kiteboarding and we were ready to sign up. Hal and I were sold on Mike’s abilities and we began making arrangements for our first lessons. We were told that with four or five hours of instruction we should be up on a kiteboard. I of course envision myself skip-skip-skippitying my way across the swells… Mike gave us a quick kite control lesson and loaned us a min-kite to practice some flying skills until our lesson. “Kiteboarding is all about Kite control.” Mike told us.

A few days passed. Hal and I practiced with the min-kite, and felt good about our kite control. Lesson day came and the wind was good enough for the lesson. Mike called and we headed out to meet him at the Noosa River mouth. We motored across the river mouth in his inflatable boat to a beach that was relatively deserted. Mike gave us a technical lesson on the do’s and don’ts of kiting. He described things simply with analogies and Hal and I basically understood what we were supposed to be doing. “Look directly ahead.” “3:00 is on your right, 9:00 is on your left and 12:00 is directly above your head.” “These are the positions of the kite when it isn’t powered and with these positions, you will launch and land your kite and get into position for boarding.” “The wind just glides over your kite in these positions”. That concept seemed simple enough to Hal and I. “Now, that arc in front of you, if you can envision this, forms a quarter sphere between 3:00, 9:00 and 12:00.” This is where the kite gets its power.” “This is a dangerous place.” Mike actually referred to it as the “power zone” “death zone” or “kill zone” . “The way you generate enough power to move your body is to control your kite within this zone.” Mike said. You either keep your kite at a 45° angle when you have great wind, or you move your kite through this zone, sharply diving the kite down and back up again to generate power”. Hal and I had practiced this maneuver for a couple of days with the mini-kite and said, “Right! No problem! We’ve done that!”

Mike then told us, “What you don’t do is also important. You never move your kite into the zone directly in front of you. The Kite creates huge resistance here and generates way too much power.” “Do you know what a super man is?” Mike asked us. “No.” Hal and I both shook our heads. “A superman is not a trick, It is a f*ck-up, and it can happen when your kite enters this zone.” “The kite will jerk you into the air at warp speed and you will fly like superman until it loses power, and if it fills with air again, it happens all over.” “One other very important thing… You can release power simply by letting go of the bar attached to the lines. The kite will totally depower and wind will just pass over it”. If you pull the bar in, it creates more resistance, and you just go faster.” The superman analogy is visual enough for both Hal and I to get it. And to be scared to death. We are now ready to strap on the kite.

I am the first lucky guy to try this out. First we learn how to unroll the kite, pump it up with air, (the kite struts and leading edge are filled with air for stability), connect the harness to the lines, and step into the harness. On the sand, I maneuver the kite through the air from 3:00 to 12:00 to 9:00 and back multiple times. I can raise and lower the kite into position and I feel pretty confident. I then wade out into waste deep water with the kite hovering at 12:00, and begin dragging myself along in the water by moving the kite up and down through the power zone. When the kite enters this power zone it literally picks your body up out of the water and drags it forward in the water. “If I had a board on my feet, I just might be Kiteboarding right now!” I thought. There was a pretty light wind that day and it made the power zones a little more forgiving. Hal went next and performed the same excercises and was equally capable of controlling the kite. We were far from good, but we were learning. The wind began to die and Mike told us it’s actually harder to control the kite in a light wind, so we were doing quite well. A stronger wind would be easier and tomorrow was supposed to be stronger. End of lesson one. On the drive home, Hal and I chattered about how easy it seemed and how much power that kite can produce. It is so fun! We can’t wait for our next lesson!

The next day was much more windy and the lesson was on! It was a great day for Kiteboarding! Fantastic kiteboarders filled the rivermouth, skipping and launching through the air right next to each other in full control of their kites. We excitedly met Mike and motored to a deserted beach downwind, a safe distance from the skilled kiteboarders. Hal went first. Hal did a great job launching the kite in the stronger wind. Maybe it is easier in a stronger wind. Hal practiced controlling the kite as he stood on the beach. Every time Hal’s kite got close to the power zone, Mike would grip Hal’s harness, and pull back hard like he was the lead man in a tug-o-war. Mike was just trying to keep Hal on the ground. After 20 minutes or so of this beach work, Hal waded out into the water and began dragging himself down the beach. The tide was going out, so the water was pretty shallow and getting shallower. Hal returned to shore and had a small gash and some scratches on his leg, evidence of a submerged tree. He was bleeding, but feeling good. I’m next!

I strapped on the kite and walked into the water, controlling it pretty well. Mike pointed to a newly exposed sand bar “beach” about 600 meters down the river and said “drag yourself over to that beach and we’ll meet you there”. I began dragging myself through the river while Mike and Hal took the inflatable. Sand bars were everywhere at varying depths as I drug myself through the water. As the tide goes out, the river gouges tiny ridges in the sand and they felt funny and coarse on my feet. I finally arrived at the beach where Hal and Mike were now standing. I emerged from the water and controlled my kite as I walked toward them. My confidence with the kite was peaking. I took my eyes off the kite for about 2 seconds and looked at Mike and Hal to engage in a bit of conversation.

Then all hell breaks loose. My kite quickly moves into the death zone, and in what seems like a millisecond, I am running faster than Michael Johnson (but looking like Michael Moore) across the sand ridges in my bare feet, desperately trying to catch up with the kite. Of course, I’m not smart enough to let go of the bar attached to the lines which is exactly what Mike is screaming at me as I blow past him. “Let go! Let go! Let go!” No. I pull the bar into my chest as if I’m pulling on the reigns of a horse. Wooooaaaa boy . Woooooaaa boy. Woooaaa Sh*t! I am now flying through the air horizontally at the speed of a Randy Johnson fastball. I land with a thud and drag across what feels like a sandy cheese grater. I finally let go of the bar. Now, I didn’t let go because I heard mike screaming at me. I let go because I hit the ground so hard my muscles involuntarily released. My bowels didn’t, thank god. I am now lying face down on the sand, and I’m humiliated. I get up quickly faking an amused smile and showing no pain. My big toes feel broken, my knees are skinned, my hips feel dislocated, and I am thoroughly embarrassed. Hal is doubled over laughing. Mike would be too, but he is the respectful teacher. While the audience of onlookers on the river bank is ooohhhing and ahhhing at the graceful kiteboarders, a broken marionette is being jerked through the air by a spastic puppeteer in the distance. I pray I’m not noticed. Hal walks over to me, still laughing and says “Sometimes in life Blake, you just have to let go…” cracking up… and it is pretty funny, especially if you know me. I don’t think I laughed. I am in pain and ready for Hal to take the Kite for a while, or Forever.

Mike has a quick come to Jesus conversation with us telling us that all the confidence we have built up to this point will be lost, because this is much more difficult. Too much confidence isn’t a problem for me at this point. Up until this moment, we have only been practicing the ‘kite’. Not the ‘boarding’. Hal straps on the kite and wades out into the water where Mike hands him the board. I watch and nurse my aches as Hal tries to control the board while also trying to control the kite. It is not easy. Hal Rotates his body under the kite as it hovers at 12:00. He spins and tries to straighten for about 5 minutes. Once his body is aligned, Mike gives Hal the go ahead and off he goes. Hal stands up and moves a few feet. He goes through this a few times, and then tkes off on the water moving for about 100 meters. In the blink of an eye, Hal is now flying through the air with too much wind in his kite. God it looks so much more forgiving on the water. I am comforted knowing that even good athletes (which Hal is) “supermans” at some point. I laugh out loud and silently forgive all those that were laughing at me only 15 minutes before. Hal goes through a few starts and stops then boards a few hundred meters successfully moving left and right, finalizing his session with a spectacular aerial that would have been so much better if his board would have come with him when he was jerked into the sky. Somewhere Christopher Reeves is jealous. Hal is now ready to give the kite back to me. And I am scared sh*tless.

I strap on the harness and kite, ready to try the board, and I slowly raise my kite in the air when it happens all over again. I let the kite fill with air in the superman zone accidentally and I am franticly chasing the kite as I pull the bar into my chest. Wooaaaa- Sh*t! This time though, there is an unfortunate would be Kiteboarder downwind from me getting a lesson. I am running directly at him and his instructor looking like a defensive back about to lay a hit on a receiver. Their eyes are wide. My kite whizzes past them both followed by me, also wide eyed, spewing apologizes. “Let go!” I say to myself, and I let the bar go. The wind passes over my kite and all is calm again. Except me. I am freaked.

Mike asks (concerned) if I want to go over kite control basics again and I say, “No. I just want to get the board on and go.” I wade out into the water and Mike hands me the board. I try and align my body as the kite hovers over me at 12:00. I struggle. Once I’m aligned, Mike says ,”Go!” I take off and am able to board about five meters. I do this a few times. I don’t have enough air in the kite. Perhaps it because I’m scared sh*tless of filling the kite with air right now. Finally, I take a deep breath, and position the kite into the power zone, and off I go. I skip across the water about 300 meters or so and turn the kite in the other direction. My board follows the kite and I’m off skipping in the other direction. This is awesome. This is worth it. Doh! Once, again I am flying through the air horizontally bracing to hit the ground. It’s just water this time. I crash face down after 10 meters of board less flight, and it is painless. Painless until I find that my prescription sunglasses have been ripped off my head and are now on the river bed somewhere behind me. I signal to Mike and Hal who are now about 500 meters away that my glasses are gone. I do this by repeatedly pointing at my head with both hands. Mike thinks I’m flexing my biceps because I’m so proud of my last 30 seconds. When he and Hal realize that I can’t see so well, they motor the boat toward me and we all sweep the area for my Maui Jims. They are gone. And I am done with the lesson for today.

Hal and I got home and were about to tell the story to Carol and Maria. We didn’t have to. It turns out they were part of the audience watching the incredible kiteboarders from the shore. Carol described watching the amazing kiteboarders and seeing some poor dork off in the distance madly chasing after his kite on the sand, then flying through the air and dragging on the ground. She was telling Maria how funny it is watching someone wreck when they’re doing risky sports like this. When she realized the dork was me, she covered her mouth and convulsed as you might do in church, when you’re desperately trying not to laugh. God – I wish I could have seen it.

You know the crazy thing? I can’t wait to get back out and try it again. Superman beckons.

Posted by Blakei 20:33 Archived in Australia Tagged family_travel Comments (2)

Noosa and the Sunshine Coast

A little slice of paradise

Happy 2008 to all of you! It’s hard to believe that we’re writing about a place while we are still here. We haven’t done that since Beijing, where we started this trip. We’ve been here for almost five weeks and have been so busy having fun in the outdoors, we haven’t taken the time to update you. Our bad. Now, on to the good stuff....

Noosa - Paradise Found?
Most of you have never heard of this place. It isn’t world famous like the Great Barrier Reef or as visually recognizable as the Sydney opera house. There is no world renowned sporting Events here like there are in Melbourne, and there aren’t millions of people here. You’ll find Noosa in an area of Australia known as the Sunshine Coast. I know that when Americans visualize a “Sunshine Coast” in Australia, they conjure up Kangaroos and red sparse landscapes that run to the ocean. I was guilty of this misconception. The Sunshine coast is about 100 km or so north of Brisbane on the east coast of Australia. It meanders for a few hundred kilometers up the coast. The Sunshine coast is covered in lush forest with eucalyptus trees, tea trees, pine trees, and untold other greenery for as far as the eye can see. Noosa is a town that is nestled on a beautiful bay with a spectacular National Forest nearly surrounding it. The town itself is pretty small, but just like San Luis Obispo, other towns run together to form a community much larger than a single town. Noosa Beach, Noosa Junction, Sunshine Beach, Sunrise Beach, Perigian, Coolum, Noosaville, and Tewantin, are all towns in the Noosa area that form this community. The downtown areas in both Noosa Junction and Noosa Beach are designed for walking, with quaint shops, restaurants, bars and pubs, surf shops, or even travel agencies for local excursions. Noosa Beach is a bit more up-scale and touristy with brand stores like Hugo Boss, Billabong, RipCurl, and higher end restaurants and jewelry stores. We have spent most of our time in these two towns, whether playing, shopping, going to the movies or dining out.

The main feature of the Noosa area is the ocean and all the activities that take place in, on, or around it. Water sports are king here, and every day the local Sunshine Coast paper carries sports articles, human interest articles, and even business articles about the beach, or for that matter the rivers, the waves, competitive surfers, competitive lifeguards, and even competitive nippers (children lifeguards). The surf and the ocean is a way of life here and we have seen all things surf-able in the swells; Long thin paddle boards, short thick paddle boards, hobbie cats, kayaks, jet skis, kite boards, surf boards, boogie boards, ironing boards (ok, I’m kidding about the ironing boards). We’ve always thought that San Luis Obispo is a very healthy and sports minded place, and by American standards it is. But SLO town and the surrounding area doesn’t hold a candle to Noosa. Just about everyone looks incredibly healthy, and in tip top condition. It isn’t uncommon to see buff 50 year old women out for a paddle, or a run, or a group of 65 year old men in stellar condition striding from the water in their speedos after a few kilometers swim. There are a lot of cyclists, runners, hikers and of course water enthusiasts of all kinds.

Even with the sunshine coast label, the weather hasn’t been perfect while we’ve been here. We’ve seen oodles of sunshine but a fair few storms as well, with greater than average rainfall for this time of year. For the past two weeks, we’ve had a few cyclones hovering off the coast that have produced some very wet days. In fact, the sliding glass doors are being pelted by sideways rain from an offshore cyclone as I write this. But even with that, this sports minded community doesn’t seem to slow down in their outdoor pursuits. I’ll give you some prime examples later.

Sunrise Beach
We aren’t actually staying in Noosa, but rather Sunrise Beach, just two communities (and 3km) southeast of Noosa. Our Condo is 3 bedrooms and is on the beach frontage street, overlooking Sunrise Beach. There is no daylight savings time in Queensland, so when they call it Sunrise Beach, it’s for a good reason. At 4:30 in the morning, the Sun Rises and blasts directly into the bedroom and Living room of the Condo. It has made for some very early and hot mornings. I have some shots of the condo (we’ve got the top floor) and the view from the balcony. Most mornings we go for an early surf, and then do some studying followed by more beach time and maybe more surf later, depending on tides. Hal, Maria, Nate and Kyle, have been here with us most of the time in a condo just next door, and we have pretty much done just about everything with them , collapsing at the end of the day, just from activities. We’ve traded nights holding dinners. One night would be chili at their condo, the next night fish at ours, etc…

We have become more attuned to the local tide charts then anywhere else we have stayed, and have started to use them to determine which beaches we will go to based on swell size and direction, wind direction and tides. We have become pretty familiar with the local points and beaches and have been selective as to where we are going to head out. We have four boards. We’ve been taking them on and off the car every day (literally) since December 2nd. Everyone is surfing and improving session by session. The point breaks in Noosa are absolutely incredible. Kevin Merck, probably are biggest surfing buddy would blanch at the incredible waves. Every morning at low tide they have been super fun. They haven’t been huge and scary but rather super nice at 3’ to 5’or smaller and super clean. Even Parker and Griffin who haven’t had much experience surfing, have been able to get long rides and learn how to stay in the green “breaking” part of the wave, snapping up pretty fast. Surfing has been a family sport for us here in Australia and in sharp contrast to the US, it seems to be a family sport for Australia. In the USA, folks think of surfers as zealous individualists who have a reckless and unquenchable desire for waves. In Australia, it is good family fun and entire families show up at beaches with boards under their arms. We saw 30-something dads with their babies on boards. We saw dads pushing their 6 year olds into waves. We heard “Hey Dad!” or “Hey Mom!” yelled as a little kid proudly finished off a great wave. And these weren’t little beach breaks. These were point breaks that required a few hundred meters of paddling to get to the wave. It was refreshing to see how much wholesome community surrounded the whole surf scene. It’s hard to imagine how any other country can produce competitive surfers with the support and geography that Australian surfers enjoy. We found ourselves surfing with this community everywhere we went in both sun and rain. The surfers were incredibly friendly and there was no territoriality at these beaches. Great people out for a great time.

Australia Zoo
We thought the Sydney Zoo was beautiful and it is, but the Australia Zoo in the Sunshine Coast is the nicest Zoo we have ever been to. This is the Zoo that Steve “The Crocodile Hunter” Irwin called his home from childhood until his recent and tragic death. This is his zoo, no mistake about it, and there is the most impressive collection of alligators, crocodiles and reptiles you have ever seen. The birds are incredible as is the Tiger exhibit. There are Koala Exhibits and a Kangaroo area where you just roam around with the little Joeys, petting them and feeding them as you cruise around. The viewing areas are spectacular and it is the cleanest zoo you will ever visit. The zoo features a giant stadium called “The Crocoseum” where they hold shows with snakes, birds and crocodiles. The shows are incredible and fun and the performers (really zoo keepers) show how much they love their work and their animals. In the show we saw, it became incredibly clear why crocodiles have remained off the endangered species list since the days of the dinosaur. They are purpose built for killing things that come near the water. The show lets you see up front and personal how they hunt and how quickly they can kill. The point is also driven home that this is a critter found “in your own backyard” because they end the show giving you tips for ensuring you aren’t the next meal for one of these guys. They tell you “When you’re in the north, stay away from the waters edge!” “NEVER dangle your feet over the water!” “If you go camping, make sure you camp at least 200 meters from the water’s edge”… stuff like this…. Scary!!

On the way to the zoo we found this awesome little carting track that wasn’t really little. It was called the “big track” and it was like being on a real scaled down race course. It was probably about a mile long and had lefts and rights, rises and falls. The carts weren’t super fast, but probably got up to 60kph or so and it seemed that Parkers went faster as he passed all of us at least once.

Christmas in Australia:
Let’s just say that if you’re from the states, it’s plain odd and maybe even wrong having Christmas in the summer. Remember that December and January are summer months in the Southern Hemisphere, and it is warming up, not chillin’ down. The sun is hot, there is no “white Christmas” and there aren’t flocked trees all over the place. You’ll also notice a lack of commercialism that is quite refreshing. It seemed to us that Christmas was more about a summer vacation and a good party than it was about a presents, lights, decorated trees, and a red guy in a suit. Oh, and I guess I should say that there aren’t very many visible churches here in Australia either. Maybe that has something to do with it as well. For our Christmas, we shipped our stockings to Noosa and had a nice little morning with a few Australian gifts, and our stockings filled with funny trinkets and candy. We left to visit Hal, Maria, Nate and Kyle, who took off to the south for the last two weeks of their stay. They moved to another surf town called Lennox Head which is just south of Byron Bay. We drove the 350km or so after opening our stockings and we enjoyed a few festive days and nights with them, surfing in a few spots like Byron Bay, Wategos bay, and Flat Rock. The air and water were unseasonably cold due to the cyclone off the coast, but it made it feel a bit more like Christmas. We spent the evening cooking, eating, drinking and of course watching Anchor Man, that wonderful Christmas film starring Will Farrell.

Gold Coast:
On the way home from Lennox Head, we drove through the Gold Coast and an area called “Surfers Paradise”. This is a clever name brought about by marketers who know what people who aren’t surfers really want, which apparently is ultra tall high rises, a few theme parks, lots of people close together, and a big beach break. It sure didn’t feel like a surfer’s paradise to us, but the downtown skyline is impressive, sporting the tallest building in the southern hemisphere, which of course got Parker completely stoked. He prefers Surfers paradise over Noosa. Man, does he like tall buildings or what. There is a ton of investment going into this area and no sign of that slowing down. Still, I like the slower pace of Noosa and the Sunshine Coast.

Outback around the corner:
We took a day trip up toward rainbow beach and Frasier Island, the worlds largest sand island. We used a map that wasn’t quite so hot and we found ourselves taking dirt roads and gravel paths for about 50km that were well maintained, but deserted. It is amazing how quickly you end up in the middle of nowhere. Within a 30 minute drive from Sunrise Beach you felt as if you were in the middle of nowhere and you could see rainforest that rolled to the horizon. Even in the Noosa National Park (that lays claim to some of THE best and busiest surf spots I’ve ever seen), you could take a path that would put you in what felt like the middle of nowhere. Griffin and I hiked one morning for a few hours and found a ton of huge skinks and a giant monitor lizard in the brush right next to the path. This was only 5km from our house. In this same park we saw Koalas just hanging around and sleeping in the trees. Hard to believe.

The Cyclone:
A cyclone settled off the north eastern coast of Australia and kicked up, *gulp*, 15 to 20 foot swells and the waves have been insane for a few days and will be until we leave. The swells have grown from one meter to 6 meters (yes 6 meters today) and it is something to behold. The wind is also blowing at about 30-50 knots. In the USA an approaching cyclone would mean evacuate and head inland. In Australia it means “Great Surf! Let’s get out there”. And out there they went. The swells are ballooning to 18 feet today and folks are in the water. In front of our House it is impossible and almost certain death to go out, even for the best, but the points are “going off “ and there are hundreds of people in the water.

Carol and I went out to surf on the 28th but didn’t go out. We backed off for three reasons. 1st, there were 100 people in the water every 100 meters surfing around each other; 2nd, Carol had a lesson at 11:15 and she didn’t want to be burned out by the morning session, and 3rd it was just to hairy. We took some pictures of the insanity for your pleasure. We saw some great waves and some great crashes too.

Carol took a lesson on this day which in itself was kind of crazy, but she had scheduled it, and they said “No Worries, the lesson is on!” The first bullet in the list of reasons to take lessons from the surf school reads: “Safe! - Noosa is the safest surf beach in Queensland. Learn in safe, soft, gentle waves in waist deep water with your coach right next to you”. Man, that is some comforting text, isn’t it? So carol takes her lesson at Noosa and the waves were breaking at about 13 feet in a giant ripping wall. There was a slight right break, but it was so fast, that only pros dared to go out. What a great day for a lesson! Within the first 5 minutes of her lesson, the instructor had to abandon her to save some swimmers that were caught in a nasty rip and were being sucked out to sea. Damn, this is good fun! This kept happening because the instructor could tell when a surfer or boarder was about to get over their head, and sure enough in a few minutes, someone else needed saving. Carol cut the lesson short – but said he was a great instructor and she learned some important tips to get her to the next level.
The waves were so big, they “closed” the beaches, which means the lifeguards stop patrolling it and just say the beach is closed. If you’re puzzled, you’re not alone, but I think they spell “beach closed” L-I-M-I-T O-U-R L-I-A-B-I-L-I-T-Y.

Later in the day, in front of our house in Sunrise where the swells were breaking outside of the shark nets, (which means probably 20 foot waves) we saw two Kiteboarders in the water. They were taking on the 50knot winds and just jamming north on the coast. I heard Carol scream “Oh my god” and I looked down to my right and a 3rd kite boarder (This is no joke) was sailing through the air at least 20 meters or so in the sky and he was in the air for 100 meters just screaming along. We couldn’t believe it. This guy made the X-Games extreme air competition look like a white guy high jumping contest. I guess this is what the Australians (or at least Queenslanders) do when they get told a cyclone approaches. The cyclone is supposed to continue to affect the surf for four more days and the wind is expected to continue to howl. I guess we’ll see more antics. Oooooo….. Kiteboarding…. More about that later…]1228NoosaBlog23.jpg

Posted by Blakei 19:44 Archived in Australia Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

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