"I wanna hang a map of the world at my house. Then I wanna stick pins in the locations that I`ve traveled to.
...But first I have to travel to the top two corners of the map so it won`t fall down."
-Mitch Hedberg

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Australian Animals are the Coolest

When we landed I asked Caz, “What’s the first thing you want to do in Australia?” and before I finished the question she karate kicked me in the face and screamed, “SEE KANGAROOOOOOOOS!!!”

So on Boxing Day, Uncle Tony took us to see some crazy Aussie animals.

The Healesville Sanctuary, which focuses on breeding and release programs for endangered species, is located 65 kms from Melbourne. In an effort to create a natural environment for Australian bush animals, it boasts large enclosures filled with native flora. The Tasmanian Devil viewing area only has one Devil because, unless they’re mating or ferociously dining on a communal carcass, they like to be alone. The authentic setting makes the animals comfortable and the experience for people more genuine and personal, allowing guys like Uncle Tony to reach over a fence and stroke the neck of an emu.

If you haven’t seen an emu, they’re five-foot tall birds with oily feathers, massive beaks, and crazy looking talons. Tony didn’t care, and the bird loved it. She got so into her massage that she sat down, almost fell over, and pooped everywhere.

We also saw goannas (huge lizards), dingoes (“A dingo ate my baby!”), three of the most venomous snakes on earth (freakin Australia), platypussesesesses (no one can agree on a plural form of this super cute misfit), koalas (also wicked cute), echidnas (spiky, egg-laying mammal thing), wombats (super sleepy), and a “Birds of Prey” show featuring hawks, owls, and cockatoos that was surprisingly good. We even saw a boomerang show, where I purchased a left-handed boomerang. It comes back to me every now and then.

The one let down was the kangaroo area. Kangaroos are most active during dawn and dusk because of the cooler temperatures. We arrived at 2:00 pm on a hot day, so the kangas were all taking a nap. A few of the bigger ones bounced around for a bit, but mostly they just sat there. We later realized the best time to see some action is during the scheduled “Keeper Talks”, when the keeper gives a short spiel about each animal and throws them some scooby snacks to wake em up.

All in all, it was a great way to see Australian wildlife and learn about some of the quirkiest animals in the world. Like did you know that platypuses have poisonous spurs on their feet that they can jab predators with? No, you didn’t.

Thanks to the Healesville Sanctuary, you’ll never die trying to hug a platypus. You’re welcome.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Go to the Rooftop Cinema because we said so

Caz and I got heaps of tips and recommendations for our trip to Melbourne. It's great that everyone has something you "have to see," but when twenty people give you tips about where to eat or the best bar in a city, it quickly becomes white noise. That’s why it was so refreshing when everyone we talked to about Melbourne gave us the same tip for a great night out - the Rooftop Cinema.
Situated on Swanston Street, this kitschy gem resides on the 6th floor rooftop of one of the many buildings that create the CBD skyline. Home to a lively happy hour crowd of both professionals and hipsters, we found ourselves transported to Brooklyn for the afternoon as we reclined on astroturf lawns with a cold beer amidst the skyscrapers of Melbourne.

For anyone not interested in seeing a movie, either because you don’t like the selection (they only screen one film each night) or it’s sold out (tickets go fast), the bar is open and happenin' most of the afternoon. It closes for an hour at 7 pm to allow the staff to transform the hip beer garden into a romantic outdoor movie theater with incredibly chic and comfortable lawn chairs.

Doors reopen at 8pm for the 9 o'clock screenings so arrive early for the best seats. The bar re-opens for pre-movie cocktails but the prices are dear ($9 beers and $10 cocktails), so maybe just enjoy the hot chocolate and coffees like we did (they're only $3). Once the sun goes down it gets wicked cold, so bring a blanket. If you forget, don't worry - they rent em for $5.

Caz and I lucked into seeing Inception which is friggin awesome regardless, but when viewed on a rooftop set against the skyline as the sun sets on a clear summer night – fuhgeddaboudit.

One of the pitfalls of traveling the way we do (staying in one place long enough to get jobs and really plug into the area) is that sometimes we get lax about venturing out and doing touristy things.
That’s why I’m stoked that we’ve already checked the rooftop cinema off our list. It was an amazing first experience in Melbourne, and will stick out in our minds as one of the best things we’ve done on our trip.

P.S. It’s also an awesome place to take a date. Tickets cost $20, but chicks dig it.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Christmas Down Under

Spending Christmas alone is something that every long-term traveler has to accept. All the special days – birthdays, graduations, and the biggies like Christmas – aren’t spent eating your grandmother’s pie with your cousin Brad as your Dad sleeps in front of the TV.

Nope. We travelers spend these holidays in a hostel common room drinking a bottle of €2 wine with Sv√úrgen, the Viking dude in the bunk above you.

And I’m here to say there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s awesome actually - everyone should spend at least one holiday with a Viking.

So as a weathered traveler, it was strange yet awesome for me to head to Melbourne this Christmas to spend the holidays with my Uncle Tony, Aunt Angela, and cousins Mick and Pat. I was finally spending time with the fam. And traveling. Living the dream…

Let’s just say it was sweet. We’ve never spent Christmas in such a different place. Instead of two-feet of snow (what up NY) we had 41 C heat (that’s 106 F America). Instead of deep-fried turkey (what up Tennessee) we had jumbo shrimp, salmon, and a lobster like shellfish called a Moreton Bay Bug.

Needless to say, the food was amazing, but the craziest part was that CAZ ATE SEAFOOD. It was an Aussie Christmas miracle.

The weather is different, the food is fresh, and the summer is just getting started. Honestly, I couldn’t think of a cooler way to end the holiday season than with the start of summer.

And I’m pretty sure that all the reindeers down here have red-noses. You know…sunburn.

Hey O.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

We're back!

When we stopped updating the blog seven months ago, I never thought restarting it would take a freaking New Year’s resolution. I can’t believe we put off posting for that long.

But I’m writing to let everyone know that the blog is back. And it’s gonna be sweet.

We’ve just arrived in Melbourne, Australia for the second leg of what is hopefully turning into a world tour, and we’re picking up the posts from here to keep everyone updated on where we are in the present. But we’ve still got heaps of stories to tell from New Zealand so don’t be thrown off when we pepper in backdated posts from time to time.

Also, the blog is evolving to include more topics than just our quirky little trip, so we’ll be featuring guest bloggers, travel book and website reviews, video blogs of destinations and events, and a growing interactive role for you – the reader. We want you to send us recommendations of where to go, what to see, what to do – anything that you’ve done or hope to do on your travels. Guess what? We’ll probably do it. We’re here for a while and are looking for the best trip possible. That means taking advice, tips, and even ridiculous suggestions from anyone and everyone.

Pushpin Pilgrim is going to grow as our trip unfolds. We started 2010 in Fiji and we’re starting 2011 in Australia, so who knows where it’ll end? The answer could be up to you.

Thanks for reading, guys.

Sincerely super duper sorry about the lull in posts,
Shawn and Caz (that’s Carolyn’s new nickname...don’t worry it’ll grow on you.)


Sunday, May 30, 2010

Hurunui Campsite

There isn’t much between Kaikoura and Christchurch except for a few stretches of seal covered beach. It’s nice, but we had a tough time finding a campsite. Luckily, our handy dandy atlas had a tent icon at Hurunui River Mouth, just south of Cheviot, so we headed to where the river meets the sea.

The lovely bomb shelter-esque bathrooms and deserted camp sites were intimidating at first, but the sign that said “This camp is run on the honesty of campers” and the sunny weather decided it for us. We stayed and it was the best idea ever.

Turns out the camping fee was only $4 per site – not per person, like most campsites in NZ – and the creepy bathroom had a mirror, two nice sinks, and full-on flush toilets…simple pleasures these days. There were even a few apple trees with apples still on em, not that we ever want to eat apples again.

After night two, we went on a sweet barefoot hike along the river. The mud squishing through our toes was disgusting at first, but then we noticed thousands of bubbles coming from under the water and curiosity had us excitedly digging in the mud to find the source. We never could figure out what was creating the bubbles - maybe oysters or geothermal activity - but in hindsight we’re glad our digging didn’t lead to a geyser exploding in our face.

Even though a few other campers came the second night and the mud ended up smelling pretty bad, we’ll remember Hurunui River as our own private getaway. We enjoyed a full moon, cooked some good dinner, and got some much needed quiet time on New Zealand’s beautiful East Coast. Two thumbs up.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Kaikoura

Kaikoura means "eat crayfish" in Maori, and while we hear the local giant crayfish are a must-have delicacy, we spent all of our time in Kaikoura looking at seals. THERE ARE SO MANY SEALS IN KAIKOURA! Today's post is dedicated to my 2 year-old nephew Colt. He's one of our most faithful readers, and he likes seals. Enjoy buddy.

Peek-a-boo Mr. Seal!
Seals love to swim, just like you.
Can you count how many seals there are?
Seals love naptime, and so should you!
Baby seals are called pups.
This is an adorable little seal pup that made Shawn scream like a girl and run away because he swears it was a big, angry mommy seal.
This seal is on a rock.
This seal is on the grass, and Shawn has a new mullet haircut. Silly seal! Silly Shawn!
This is my new friend.
We shared a moment.
Then I had to go!
For even MORE seal photos (and some really awesome seaweed pics too), check out the full album.

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No worries! Simply view the web album on Picasa.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Blasting Blenheim

Care and I were so excited to see some new scenery after what felt like an eternity in the Nelson/Marlborough Region, so we just drove as far as we could before sunset. That got us to Blenheim, a small town in the heart of New Zealand wine country.

We freedom camped just south of town, near a mountain bike track. The parking lot was fine, but it didn’t have any facilities, meaning every morning we had to wake up and speed to town so we didn’t pee our pants. We make every effort to be responsible freedom campers because we want to diffuse the negative stereotypes that locals have about budget travelers. A lot of Kiwis hate freedom campers because there’s always one disrespectful vagabond that litters and poops in the bushes, ruining things for everyone else.

There was one small surprise about sleeping among the Blenheim vineyards…hearing constant gunshots.

That’s right – constant gunshots.

At one point, we thought we were being attacked by canons. It put living in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn to shame. Apparently there’s a large NZ Air Force base just west of town, and they like to practice…you know in case freaking New Zealand gets invaded. After listening to how much the Royal NZ Air Force practices, I pity any country dumb enough to attack the Kiwis.

A highlight of Blenheim was the Sunday morning farmers’ market. A charming old man from a local olive orchard, Tussock, took the time to explain several types of olives they grow, and let us taste the difference in the oils. We were impressed, so we bought a really tasty bottle of garlic-infused olive oil.

People keep asking if we think New Zealand is “backwards” or “twenty years behind”, and we’ve always been confused by the question. I mean, things are slower here, but that’s mostly due to the smaller population (4 million), not the lack of any technology or convenience. Sure, free internet is a little tougher to find, central heating doesn’t exist, and don’t even get Carolyn started on how crappy the laundry dryers are here. But other than that, it’s sweet as.

Anyhoo…

The farmers’ market was one of the only times where saw what people mean about going back in time. The farmers’ markets here are held by…real farmers. It’s not like the pockets of “rural consciousness” that pop up in Union Square or abandoned K-Mart parking lots on a Saturday morning in the States. These people head to the horse grounds in town and sell their produce. Little kids run around getting their faces painted and listening to the “Story Time Lady”. It’s not a pretense at capturing the lost agrarian utopia. It’s just farmers. At a market. Same thing goes for the endless number of fruit stands and “fresh eggs” signs you see on every road and motorway in New Zealand.

The simplicity and functionality made me feel transported in time. The only question is, with the frenzied rate that people in the States seem to be going “back” to organic produce and grass-fed animals, is New Zealand a land frozen in the distant past, or a country light years ahead in the future?

I know, mind blower, right?

You’re welcome.