It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

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The plan. I’ve been planning surprising my mom on her 50th birthday for quite some time. I had a vague idea of what I wanted to do – basically show up at her place on her birthday with flowers, presents and wish her a happy birthday. I’ve been away from Estonia since Dec 2011 – that’s about 2.5 years – I hope she still remembers who I am.

I’m writing this in the Riga airport in Latvia while waiting for a bus to Tartu, Estonia. It’s strange to be back in a place where the majority of people don’t speak English – it’s either Russian or Latvian. I’ve been living in English speaking countries and need to adjust to my new (or should I say old?) surroundings.

The flight from Stansted (London) to Riga Airport sucked balls. It was freezing at the airport and there was nowhere to sit to wait for your flight except on the cold floor. All benches were full of people either sleeping or dozing off. The floor it is, I decided decidedly in a decisive manner.

You might have figured out that I had an early flight. Congratulations Sherlock! The lesson I learned from all this is that I should never show up at the airport before the bag drop counters for my flight open up.

I feel a bit like Santa at the moment. I’ve got a bag full of presents for my family. I hope they like ‘em.

I did a good job keeping my plans a secret. Only my sister and a few VIP friends know I’m nearby. My baby sister will “hide” me at her castle for a few days (my mum’s birthday is in 3 days). In the meantime I’ll try to spend some quality time with my niece Vanessa who was born when I was on the other side of the planet. I’ve got high expectations: I plan to teach her to do a cartwheel, double salto, a few headstands while juggling 7 balls with her left hand and doing my taxes with her right hand on a “dumb” phone.

The bus trip. I. Hate. Latvia. Alright, I don’t hate the whole country, I hate its buses and roads and its airport. First of all I had to wait 5 hours for my bus and then had to prepare myself for another 5 hour bus journey. I believe it took me about 2.5 hours to fly from London to Riga (1691 km in a straight line) and now this 244 km trip will take twice as long. Welcome to Eastern Europe.

On the bright side the bus had a free Wifi connection and an outlet for my laptop. There were also tablets on the back of each seat. I took advantage of that and watched two movies. GrownUps 2 was hilarious – it was so funny my laughter was disturbing the peace of my fellow travellers. ‘twas a jolly good ride, me mates!

The second half of my bus journey was slow and just as entertaining as watching grownup men running around on a field chasing each other and trying to kick a ball.

I spent the next few days at my sister’s place in Tartu. I enjoyed my first day there a lot. The highlight was my long lunch with Erik and Liina. It was easy to talk to them because they’ve travelled the world a bit as well. I look forward to seeing them again.

 

Big 50. All the kids got together and drove off to see my mum. I had several ideas about what would happen once my mum saw me. What followed was not a huge American style expression of joy at all. What happened was a lot like a train leaving Liverpool station at 6:32 AM with an average speed of 60 km/h moving towards another train from Manchester leaving its station at 6:44 towards Liverpool at an average speed of 55 miles/h. That’s how dramatic our reunion was! That’s as good as it gets in Estonia.

I quickly discovered how out of place I was. To be fair I re-discovered it. Basically everybody was talking and I wasn’t. I felt how different I was from everybody else.  After my mums birthday I already wanted to leave. I remembered some of the reasons why I left back then.

ESTrip. Me and me mates went to Hiiumaa and it was awesome!!! Me, Pete, Olav and Siim rented a cabin in the dark and scary forest of Hiiumaa. Naturally we engaged in social drinking and banter and did a bit of “sightseeing”.

There’s not much to see in Hiiumaa except a few lighthouses and a military museum (I wasn’t a fan of either “attractions”). If I had to pick a favourite it would be the Eiffel Tower. See the video below.

Basically it’s the prototype of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. First it was built in Hiiumaa and then the evil Russian communist pigs stole the blueprints and lost them after a party in Paris. A French janitor/hobby-artist found the blueprints in an empty vodka bottle (back in the day the Russians’ most secure means of communication was by message in a bottle). That janitor’s name was Eiffel, he built the tower for his exhibition and the rest is history.

I spent my last two uneventful days at my brother’s place. I believe I was a lot of trouble for him because he had to take me to a vegetarian/vegan restaurant and it wasn’t easy to find one (I was happy with the 3rd place we went to). In the future I’ll opt for a cafe and order a black coffee – I did’t enjoy being a “problem”.

A glimpse of Australia. Just a few hours before catching my plane back to the UK I decided to see if I had any friends in Tallinn to arrange a catch up meeting. I was very lucky to see Marget again (I met her in Australia). I noticed that she didn’t have the same vibe (or lack of any vibe whatsoever) as other Estonians did. She was energetic, cheerful and radiant – completely out of place. She reminded me of so many things I miss about Australia. It was great to reminiscence.

This trip to Estonia made me realize how lucky I really am. I’ve seen, lived and experienced so much which wasn’t possible in my tiny home country. Going back felt a lot like falling asleep for 2.5 years and then waking up – nothing had changed about the country. I think I’ve changed or maybe I just see the world through a different lense.

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South Island

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I found three travellers who were looking for another person for their road trip. They picked me up from my hostel and we headed towards Wellington to catch the ferry to South Island. In case you guys don’t know… most of New Zealand is on two islands – North Island and South Island.

My new travel mates are Marvin, Ben and Carina.

Marvin is from Germany. He’s a business chemistry student on a gap year. He’s very fit: six pack and everything – every girl’s wet dream. He reminds me of Oliver – a German who I became good friends with in Australia when I was working on a farm.

Ben is an Australian. He studies psychology and works as an elementary school teacher. He’s on a holiday in New Zealand.

Carina is a young Swiss princess traveling through Australia and NZ on a 6 week holiday. She’s a bit like me – we both smile like idiots in awkward situations to break the tension.

The drive to Wellington (capital of NZ) was quite uneventful. We were in a bit of a hurry because of the ferry. A lot of people travel south in the summer months and it’s a bit tricky to get the car across because the ferries are all booked. I’ve met several travelers who waited 2-6 weeks for a spot on the ferry. Missing it was out of the question.

The weather got very windy and cold. Sailing to the other island was a little bumpy and I got a little seasick which is a first time thing for me. The following journey in the car wasn’t a picnic either. It was raining and we traveled on a windy road which only contributed to my headache and motion sickness. I needed several stops to pull myself together and continue in the car.

The initial plan was to camp somewhere but the weather was so bad we decided to find some proper accommodation. To our surprise almost everything in that area was booked and the few available options were too expensive. Lots of phone calls later we managed to find a 4 person cabin in Nelson.

I was greeted by the local duck mafia next morning. They were following me everywhere in hopes that I’d feed them.  I successfully escaped from the mafia and we continued to Nelson Lakes National Park to check out lakes Rotoiti and Rotoroa.

The lakes were beautiful but there were too many sandflies. I didn’t expect that. Those bastards bite and leave a very itchy bump on your skin. They drove us mad. Me and Carina went for a swim in Rotoroa even though the water was very cold. The scenery was amazing and I wanted a picture of me chilling in the water. The lake was so cold. It felt like my back was on fire – my whole body went into shock/panic mode. I only stayed for 30-60 seconds in the water. Never again! But I got good pics 😀

Ben was also happy to guide us through a quick yoga session. Thank you Ben! We really needed a good stretch after all that driving.

In the evening we drove towards Punakaiki to see the Pancake rocks. We got there a bit late so we decided to camp in the neighborhood and visit the rocks again in the morning.

We also saw kiwis at the roadside. At least I thought they were kiwis. I remember shouting and pointing to Ben ‘Look, look! Kiwis!!! Kiwis!!!’ He stopped the car and I ran after the birds with my camera.

It was so exciting!!!

Sadly all that excitement was for nothing. Two locals told us those were wakas, not kiwis. 😦 I was so disappointed.

Here’s a bit of culture.  A Maori legend about how the Kiwi lost its wings:

One day, Tanemahuta was walking through the forest. He looked up at his children reaching for the sky and he noticed that they were starting to sicken, as bugs were eating them.
He talked to his brother, Tanehokahoka, who called all of his children, the birds of the air together.
Tanemahuta spoke to them.
“Something is eating my children, the trees. I need one of you to come down from the forest roof and live on the floor, so that my children can be saved, and your home can be saved. Who will come?”
All was quiet, and not a bird spoke.
Tanehokahoka turned to Tui.
“E Tui, will you come down from the forest roof?”
Tui looked up at the trees and saw the sun filtering through the leaves. Tui looked down at the forest floor and saw the cold, dark earth and shuddered.
“Kao, Tanehokahoka, for it is too dark and I am afraid of the dark.”
Tanehokahoka turned to Pukeko.
“Pukeko, will you come down from the forest roof?”
Pukeko looked down at the forest floor and saw the cold, damp earth and shuddered.
“Kao, Tanehokahoka, for it is too damp and I do not want to get my feet wet.”
All was quiet, and not a bird spoke.
Tanehokahoka turned to Pipiwharauroa.
“Pipiwharauroa, will you come down from the forest roof?”
Pipiwharauroa looked up at the trees and saw the sun filtering through the leaves. Pipiwharauroa looked around and saw his family.
“Kao, Tanehokahoka, for I am busy at the moment building my nest.”
All was quiet, and not a bird spoke. And great was the sadness in the heart of Tanehokahoka, for he knew, that if one of his children did not come down from the forest roof, not only would his brother loose his children, but the birds would have no home.
Tanehokahoka turned to Kiwi.
“E kiwi, will you come down from the forest roof?”
Kiwi looked up at the trees and saw the sun filtering through the leaves. Kiwi looked around and saw his family. Kiwi looked at the cold damp earth. Looking around once more, he turned to Tanehokahoka and said,
“I will.”
Great was the joy in the hearts of Tanehokahoka and Tanemahuta, for this little bird was giving them hope. But Tanemahuta felt that he should warn kiwi of what would happen.
“E kiwi, do you realise that if you do this, you will have to grow thick, strong legs so that you can rip apart the logs on the ground and you will loose your beautiful coloured feathers and wings so that you will never be able to return to the forest roof. You will never see the light on day again.”
All was quiet, and not a bird spoke.
“E kiwi, will you come down from the forest roof?”
Kiwi took one last look at the sun filtering through the trees and said a silent goodbye. Kiwi took one last look at the other birds, their wings and their coloured feathers and said a silent goodbye. Looking around once more, he turned to Tanehokahoka and said,
“I will.”
Then Tanehokahoka turned to the other birds and said,
“E Tui, because you were too scared to come down from the forest roof, from now on you will wear the two white feathers at your throat as the mark of a coward.
Pukeko, because you did not want to get your feet wet, you will live forever in the swamp.
Pipiwharauroa, because you were too busy building your nest, from now on you will never build another nest again, but lay your eggs in other birds nests.
But you kiwi, because of your great sacrifice, you will become the most well known and most loved bird of them all.”

The End

We spent some time checking out the Pancake Rocks and then headed towards the glaciers. The first one we visited was the Franz Joseph glacier.

A glacier is basically a big chunk of ice. I didn’t really know what to expect.

So we got there, walked a good half hour and took some pictures of the glacier – nothing too exciting. There were many warning signs about potential hazards like rocks falling, sudden floodings etc. The glacier was quite far away from the viewing point.

Later we headed towards the Fox glacier. The distance from the car park to the glacier was longer than at Franz Joseph. Me and Marvin ran most of the distance.

I liked that we could walk much closer to the Fox glacier than to Franz Joseph. Me and Marvin decided to ignore the warning signs and go on our own little exploration tour. We had to touch the ice!

Getting to the glacier was no big deal really but the potential for hazards was very real. We saw some rocks falling down the cliffs from a distance.

Crisis

We continued towards Queenstown and noticed a beautiful lake next to the road. We stopped for some pictures. Later went for a swim in the Blue Pools (the water was freezing).

Our first crisis was in Queenstown. I wanted to visit Milford Sound but Marvin and Carina didn’t really want to go there and Ben was OK with visiting it. We wasted a lot of time trying to figure out a plan but ended up all going to Milford Sound.

We got to Milford Sound early in the morning. The cruise was very nice but the weather was a bit too foggy. I loved it anyway. It’s a beautiful place.

We also visited the Mirror lakes and The Chasm on our way back.

I wanted to see penguins at Dunedin. We got there in the morning but penguins only come out late in the evening when the sun goes down. We visited a museum and drove towards Oamaru.

On our way we visited the Moeraki boulders.

In Oamaru, we were fortunate to see some penguins at the beach where we had dinner. Benn picked some mussels from the beach and they later cooked them.

Now we set our sights towards Mt Cook – the highest mountain in New Zealand. Lake Tekapo was on our way. Since we’ve been camping every night for a while (two sleeping in the tent, two in the car), we decided it’s time for some luxury.

We spent most of the day at a hot water spa next to Lake Tekapo. I think I’ve never been cleaner.

Mount Cook was our destination. We went to a tourist information center to plan our visit. The trio decided to rent bikes and visit some glaciers, I decided not to rent a bike. I don’t really like cycling – especially in the mountains and wanted to walk to the glaciers.

It turned out the track to Hooker Lake and Hooker glacier was no good for bikes. Too many big rocks and very bad terrain. I walked faster than the cyclist trio. They were very unhappy about it.

The bikes were ditched/hidden in the bush and everybody walked to Hooker lake.

I ran a part of the distance and needed to cool down once I got there. That’s why I’m not wearing a shirt in the pics.

Hooker lake was really cool. It had small icebergs floating in it and the glacier was also right there. I got amazing pictures of the place. Marvin almost went for a swim:

We drove to Christchurch – the final destination of our road trip. We spent the first night in a hotel because Ben and Carina wanted to stay near the airport to catch a flight the next day. Two days later Marvin left NZ as well and I was left all alone.

Ivar the Islander

Synchronized swimming, huge trees, turtles and dolphins

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Cape Tribulation, Goodbye Rachel (Dec 19th)

We continued towards Cape Tribulation – the most northern point on our roadtrip. It took five minutes for the ferry to cross the Daintree river, after that we were driving in a rainforest on a very windy road. There’s something magical about turning the wheel left and right over and over again – it feels like you’re actually doing something, like you’re driving the car, not just sitting in it. I loved looking at the trees above the road as they merged together and at times it seemed as if I was driving in a tunnel.

The waterworks started near the beach at Cape Tribulation. It was sad to realize that we reached the farthest point in our journey. This was it. The end. I didn’t enjoy that moment. I guess Greg Anderson was right when he said „Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.“ Yeah mate, finishing sucks.

Later today I needed to get Rachel to the Cairns airport. On the way there we had our last swim – we did some synchronized swimming 😀 because Rachel wouldn’t stop talking about it in the car. I admit, it was fun and I liked it. We had our last burgers at Hungry Jacks (they make a mean veggie burger too) and said our final goodbyes to Rachel at the airport.

Me and Pete visited the Cairns lagoon and the Crystal Cascades (a bunch of waterfalls about 10-20 km from the city). We spent the night again in the park with the hippies. They were still there. Peace! Make love, not war!

Atherton Tablelands (Dec 20th)

The sun wasn’t shining as brightly as before, the birds were singing sad melodies and the grass wasn’t as green anymore – Rachel was gone. Pete was very moody in the morning, he didn’t feel like doing anything  – not even fishing which is one of his favorite activities. I missed Rachel too. I missed her like a vegetarian misses meat or like Arnold Schwarzenegger misses da choppas. Rachel was a wonderful travelmate and she made the trip very entertaining with her expert commentary. I hope our paths will cross again some time in the future.

We drove the the mountains in the west. That area is called the Atherton Tablelands. Again the road was very windy with beautiful scenery.

We visited the Cathedral Fig – it’s a huge tree which probably inspired James Cameron to make the Avatar movie. We also climbed the tree. It was massive and really cool!

We drove around Lake Tinaroo along the Danbulla Forest Drive and visited the  Curtain Fig which was another huge tree. Later we checked out some waterfalls, swam under the Millaa Millaa. Since the wet season had not yet begun there wasn’t a lot of water coming down from the waterfall. Nevertheless if you swam under it and looked up you’d see the sun shining back at you from each water drop. It was lovely!

Our next stop was a place called Innot Hot Springs. We were curious about the hot springs. Same story – everything was very dry. We found a little creek and the water in it was very hot, at least 70-80C. I imagined it to be different. I though they’d have massive swimming pools with people chilling in them, similar to Iceland. Anywho we touched some water and immediately after that left. Fail!

The day ended with a swim in the Paradise Waterhole (in the Paluma Range National Park). The water was nice and warm. Our trip to Hartley’s croc farm taught us that crocs like warm water and that scared us a bit. We probably spent only 5 paranoid minutes in the water.

We continued towards Airlie Beach in the dark. Pete was driving and I tried to catch some sleep. He claimed he saw several roos who weren’t yet roadkills. I saw nothing. Pete was probably hallucinating. We didn’t find a good place to camp and spent the night in the car a bit out of Airlie Beach. It was terrible, at least the mozzies got a good feed.

Airlie Beach (Dec 21st)

We spent the whole day at the Airlie Beachi lagoon. That’s all we did. Hey, we thought the world was going to end and this was a good place to spend our last day.

We camped in a rest area near Rockhampton.

Yeppoon, Emu Park, Bargara, Mon Repos (Dec 22nd)

We drove through Yeppoon and Emu Park, looked at the ocean and continued towards Bargara. Most of the day was spent at the Bargara beach. We waited until the evening to go see the turtles at the Mon Repos Turtle Rookery.

The show started at 19 because the turtles only come to the beach in the dark to lay eggs. It was crowded, there were at least 150 people.

A guide took us to the beach where a turtle was already digging a hole/nest in the sand. It was huge – 101 cm.  We watched as it finished digging and started to lay eggs. Once 10 eggs were laid the staff lighted the turtle up (they didn’t torch the poor thing, they used flashlights) and people could start taking pictures. I found out that turtles lay eggs 5 or 6 times in a season, and about 100-150 eggs each time.

We were also allowed to touch the eggs. They were similar to ping-pong balls, you could press a dent into it and it would pop out.   At the end of the tour we watched the turtle cover the eggs with sand and go back into the water.

We drove to Tin Can Bay, slept in the car, fed some mozzies and had a miserable night.

Feeding dolphins at Tin Can Bay (Dec 23rd)

It’s possible to feed dolphins at Tin Can Bay. They swim right to the beach and you can give them a fish. We saw 4 dolphins: a 9 month baby, then a 21, 25 and 35 year old dolphin. The dolphins didn’t do any tricks, sometimes one of them stuck its nose out of the water to sniff around. You could almost see a smile on the dolphin’s face because it knew people would feed it soon. It was interesting to see these majestic creatures and to feed them. I liked it!

Once the dolphins were fed we drove home to Brisbane. Home sweet home with all its luxuries: a warm shower, wifi, a bed, fridge and washing machine.

By the way, Pete financed most of the trip’s expenses. He’s my squeeze! Soon my financial situation will be so bad that I will be sending emails about the millions I inherited from a distant relative who was killed in an airplane crash. I will need to transfer the funds out of my country, I will need your help and bank account details.

Thanks Pete and Rachel! It was an amazing trip!

Snorkeling, scuba diving, coconuts and many crocs

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Whitsunday Islands (Dec 15th)

It was an early morning start. We had to be at the harbour at 7:20 to board the catamaran.

There are 74 islands in the Whitsunday Group. The islands are near Airlie Beach. They are famous for the stunning Whitehaven Beach and they’re also one of Australia’s best snorkeling and scuba diving locations in the Great Barrier Reef.

We sailed happily to the Hayman island to snorkel. Perfect weather, warm water, colorful fish and corals – this was my very first snorkeling experience. It was awesome. There was one guy on a small boat throwing food into the water. This attracted an incredible amount of fish who went crazy in the water and if you were close to the action they’d bump into you many-many times. It was very cool! Fishy-fishy-fishy!

After snorkeling for an hour or so we went scuba diving. We had to wear weights around our lower backs because without them we’d never sink. I thought that sinking was the easy part… Anywho we were a bit clumsy at first but got better very quickly. The underwater world was awesome – much cooler than snorkeling. Sometimes we heard a scratching noise which was made by the fish who ate corals. We even found Nemo.

Next stop was Langford Reef. That’s where we saw turtles – I saw about 6 or 8 of them. It took us several tries until we were able to grab the turtles from the bottom of the sea and bring them to the surface. I’m not sure if we were allowed to do that. Nevertheless we had fun. I thought the turtles would carry you under water if you held on to them but that wasn’t the case. They didn’t even budge. I think they didn’t even notice we were holding on to them.

About the video: We’re not at Whitehaven Beach. Rachel asked us where we were and Whitehaven Beach was the first thing which popped up in my mind.

Annette warned us about sailing to the islands. She said if we didn’t have a fast boat we’d spend a lot of the day just getting to the islands. Instead we could’ve spent that time snorkeling and diving. This day were was practically no wind and the catamaran was super slow.

We drove to Townsville to stay at a couchsurfer’s place Rachel found earlier. His name was Troy – an interesting guy, travels a lot and hosts a lot of couchsurfers. We enjoyed dinner, chatted a bit and planned our visit to Magnetic Island before going to sleep.

Magnetic Island (Dec 16th)

It takes 20 minutes for the ferry to reach Magnetic Island from Townsville. We didn’t take our car because that was too expensive. Besides the island was supposed to have good public transportation.

Everybody was really sleepy on the ferry  and didn’t feel like doing much. We rented some snorkeling gear and took the bus to Arthur Bay. We had a brochure which said Arthur Bay was the best place for snorkeling.

We had to walk about 2 km in the summer heat from the bus station to Arthur Bay. There was no road to get down to the bay, only a lookout. We had to improvise and risked with our lives trying to get through the forest down to the bay.

The water was muddy  and we didnt see anything but a few corals and several fish. It was a huge disappointment. I remember we all laughed hysterically in the water once we realized what a scam this island was – public transportation was crap, it was a super hot day and we had to carry our snorkeling gear with all our food and towels etc around with us, the snorkeling was crap, no access to Arthur Bay. It was one of those I-don’t-care-I-give-up laughs. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.

The highlight was our photoshoot in our stinger suits. We looked ridiculous! Since we were all tired we decided to have a lazy day on the island and just slept on the beach most of the day.

We were back on Australia’s main land around 19 o’clock and headed towards Mission Beach. The plan was to find some quiet rest area and spend the night there camping. Luckily we found one and that’s exactly what we did.

Mission Beach, Josephine Falls (Dec 17th)

On our way to Mission Beach we saw a Cassowary bird next to the road but weren’t able to take any pictures. The beach was beautiful but full on stingers and sharks. The only place suitable for swimming was a rectangular netted area which kept all the wildlife out.

The water was super warm, we didn’t want to come out. It was so good to chill there. Pete and Rachel also found some coconuts on the beach. Pete had a knife (a real Crocodile Dundee knife) and they were able to drink the milk from the coconuts. Later we tried to climb some coconut trees just for the hell of it. I was quite good at it, well I don’t want to brag but I’m good at everything. Then I grow up I will become a monkey who picks coconuts for a living. That would be legen… wait for it….

Josephine Falls was our next stop. It’s a waterfall which has a swim hole right under it. It was beautiful although the water was much cooler compared to Mission Beach.

We spent the night in a rest area about 25 km from Cairns. We set up camp between two huge trees. There were several hippies at the same place who played guitar. I managed to brake the high e string with my awesome bends in Eric Clapton’s Wonderful Tonight. Sorry hippies, I always leave a path of destruction wherever I go.

..dary!

Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures (Dec 18th)

We went straight through Cairns and visited Hartley’s Crocodile Farm. There was a sign near the entrance which advertised a private tour which included feeding a saltwater croc. I asked the lady at the reception whether feeding the big croc was awesome and she said I’d scream like a little girl doing it. That was all the convincing I needed. It cost me $125, a normal entrance ticket was about $30.

First we saw some Cassowaries in the park. Later we went on a boat trip and saw some real crocs in the water. It was really cool.

Freshwater crocs are much smaller than saltwater crocs. They’re also not as dangerous, you can even swim with them.

Pete and Rachel pole-fed some freshies. It was funny because they were allowed to tease the crocs with the food – they’d just pull the food away right before the croc started to close its jaws. Every time the jaws closed you could hear a plop sound.

My moment to shine arrived right after lunch. We walked to the reception and met with our guide who took us on the private tour. The guide lectured us a bit about saltwater crocs, their habitat and life in general. It was good to ask questions. I liked it when other tourists tried to sit down close to us to listen but the guide told them to bugger off because this was a private show. We felt special! 😀

After the lecture we met Louie – a saltwater croc who was missing half of his lower jaw. His ex-girlfriend bit it off. The guide demonstrated pole-feeding with Louie and then said that I’ll feed the next croc Sully.

Sully was a 700kg salty. Feeding him was really cool. In the beginning I kept the chicken too close to the fence and Sully tried to get through it to snatch its food. Scary stuff! I never screamed like a little girl though. Even the guide had a fright or two during the pole-feeding experience. These crocs are very unpredictable.

We also watched the snake show and later the crocodile attack show. It was interesting.

We drove north and spent the night in a caravan park near Mossman.

Ivar the Crocodile Hunter

Stingers, drop-bears and a big roo

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Caloundra, Kings Beach, Moffat Beach, Dicky Beach, Noosa (Dec 11th)

Our first stop was Caloundra. Its main beach – Kings Beach – was very crowded because of the school holidays. The waves were awesome – there were lots of them and they were big. The conditions were perfect for bodyboarding, unfortunately we didn’t have any room for surfcrafts in the car. For a second or two I thought about stealing a bodyboard from some kid… I could probably take one or two of them (of course not at the same time – let’s be realistic!). I didn’t resort to such means. This time! We ended up jumping into the waves which was heaps of fun until suddenly all the joy was cut short by Rachel’s deafening screams of pain and agony.

As I looked at her with terror in my eyes, my knees became weak and wobbly. It was difficult to breathe and as I gasped for more air I saw the cause of her misery. Her back and stomack were flaming red with dark red goosebumps – she was stung by a marine stinger. The screams… the screams… I still have nightmares of her screams.

I don’t remember exactly how things unfolded but here’s how I recall it. I single-handedly carried her out of the water and rushed her to the lifeguards. They hosed her with some fresh water and sprayed something on the irritated skin. She didn’t need any more medical attention because Canadians are made tough – mothers leave their babies in the woods right after giving birth. This, they say, is natural selection at its best, it builds character and also helps bread a nation of survivors. Only the toughest ones will make it.

Other than that, Rachel was just fine. It was a bluebottle sting, nothing serious. I’ve never been stung so I don’t know how painful it was but from the look on her face it wasn’t too bad. She didn’t really scream but all the rest of the story is true… more or less 😀 After Rachel’s encounter with Australia’s wild and ferocious wildlife we enjoyed a bit of sunbathing and continued our journey towards the next beaches in Caloundra.

Moffat Beach was crap. It had a plateau with nasty stuff growing on it – I don’t know, algae or something. Right next to Moffat Beach was Dicky Beach. Hahahah Dicky …. hahahahaha no further comments necessary. 😀

There was an old shipwreck at Dicky Beach. I think it was Captain James Cook’s vessel. No doubt in that. It was very rusty and full of razor sharp edges. Both Agni and Rachel cut their knees and even I was bleeding from a toe after exploring the ship and looking for survivors – sadly there were none.

We continued towards Noosa despite our severe injuries and potential tetanus and cholera infections. Our visit to the Noosa National Park was wonderful. I’ve been there a couple of times and I love it. My favorite part is when I’m on the way back towards the carpark (from trail #2 switch to #4) and suddenly everything becomes so quiet. You can only hear the sounds of the trees, birds, lizards and drop-bears. Noosa was crowded, it was full of surfers enjoying their school holidays. We didn’t see any koalas, snakes or dolphins.

Our final destination for the day was a camping site at a place called Noosa North Shore. Benn, Emily and Sean (their friend) were already on the island waiting for us. We had to cross a bit of water, it took 2 minutes on a little ferry and only cost $6 for a car and all its passengers. It took us about 30 minutes to find the Aussies. Once there, we set up camp, had some beers and kumba-ya!

As I watched the drunken lot I learned a new pickup line. One guy, let’s call him Shredder, said to a girl that her hair was soooooo asymmetric and that it was brilliant! 😀 It seemed to me that his line actually worked. The girl melted like butter.

The night became darker and darker and darker. Benn shared a story. He was camping with one of his friends. They were minding their own business, bushwalking tra-la-laa-di-daa, and then suddenly out of nowhere a drop-bear attacked his friend. It ripped out the victims eye and made him watch with the other eye how the beast devoured the eyeball. Nom-nom-nom-nom-nom. After that the drop-bear slashed the victim in a savage rampage. Benn barely escaped the same fate.

Rainbow Beach, Bundaberg, Seventeen Seventy (Dec 12th)

I woke up aroud 5:40 and went for a jog on the beach. There were hills in the distance and I noticed a strip of sand on a hill. I decided that I’m going to jog over there and check out the view from the top of that hill. It took me about an hour to get there but I did it. The view was good but I didn’t like the wind which was blowing sand into my eyes. Then I jogged/walked back to the camping site.

We packed our tents and left the site around 11 o’clock. Yep, nobody was rushing.

It took 2 hours to reach Rainbow Beach. During the drive I remember seeing a big roo next to the road. I called it out to others but they didn’t see it. So I counted down the seconds until the car reached the roo.  As my countdown reached zero the roo turned out to be a small crow just hopping on the grass. My, oh my, I was seeing things. Of course everybody in the car had a big laugh 😀

Rainbow Beach was a beautiful beach with massive sand dunes. We climbed the dunes and tried to sled down on a piece of cardboard. That didn’t really work out but we had fun trying. Later we needed to go for a swim to wash away all the sand.

Today’s best part was the drive to Bundaberg. That was Agni’s drop-off point. We were all very happy once our ways parted at her hostel. It was a magical moment full of joy and happiness. Everybody had a huge smile on their face. Finally, more room in the car! We weren’t a good match with her either.

Our initial plan was to reach the Lake Monduran caravan park but its reception closed at 17:30 so there was no point in going there. We decided to drive towards Seventeen Seventy and just camp somewhere along the road.

About 25 km from Seventeen Seventy I took a left turn onto a dirt road, drove to the end of it and decided that this was our camping site for the night. We set up camp. One guy drove down to us and tried to scare us away. I used my highly developed communication/negotiation skills to change his mind. He allowed us to stay and warned us about starting fires because the area was very dry.

That night was very scary because of all the forest sounds. The roos were jumping but that sounded exactly as if someone was walking past our tent. When the wind blew the grass against the tent I almost shat myself. It sounded like somebody was trying to get into the tent but didn’t find its door. Luckily I was sleeping in the middle of Pete and Rachel. Therefore in case of a drop-bear or a serial killer, Pete and Rachel would die before me. That thought gave me peace and helped me fall asleep.

Seventeen Seventy, Agnes Water, Capricorn Caves, Mackay (Dec 13th)

We survived the night, packed our stuff and drove to Seventeen Seventy. I have been there twice before but this time it was a big disappointment. The water was much higher and thus most of the beach was gone. We visited Cook’s Monument Cairn and went for a walk in a national park.

Agnes Water was only 5-10 km away. None of us was very enthusiastic about going swimming because of the stingers. Eventually Pete and I gathered up our courage and had a go. Rachel and I did a little Gangnam dance because that’s the way we roll… 😀

Next we visited Olsen’s Capricorn Caves. Entrance and a guided tour cost $27 each. We saw stalactites and stalagmites and caves and stuff. We were told that in the caves we were walking on dried bat guano (crap). Good to know, considering I was barefoot.

The highlight was the Cathedral – a cave with great acustics. They even had wedding ceremonies in that cave. We listened to a song in the cave… halleluyah, it was beautiful.

After the caves we went to Mackay. Benn’s mother (Annette) agreed to host us for a night. It was good to see her since the last time I saw her was several months ago. She made dinner for all of us. It was delicious. I ate as much as I could because I knew this was the last decent meal during the next 2 weeks. Everybody was done eating but I was still munching food and adding more stuff onto my plate. Nom-nom-nom-nom!

We spent most of the evening planning our trip. Annette and Jon were a great help with their suggestions. I was super tired that day. Who knew that traveling was so exhausting?

Finch Hatton Gorge, Araluen Falls (Dec 14th)

We loved it at Annette’s place and didn’t really want to  leave. It took Rachel ages to pack her stuff and we left around 11 o’clock. Our destination was Finch Hatton Gorge and Araluen Falls in the Eungella National Park.

We jumped into the water from the cliffs at Araluen Falls. It was entertaining. Some other kids jumped about 2-3 times higher than we did. I would’ve joined them but I didn’t because of all my prior injuries from the shipwreck. It had nothing to do with being scared.

After the fun in the water we drove to Airlie Beach to book a day trip to the Whitsunday Islands. We could only choose between two options because everything else was fully booked. Since we all wanted to snorkel and scuba dive we chose the Illusions cruise.

We spent the night in a caravan park.

Before I left Brisbane

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Last time I wrote that I was planning to host a couchsurfer. And that’s exactly what I did. I never brake a promise (except when I do, sorry). Allen, from Taiwan, spent 2 days at my place. We had a BBQ on the last day which was a lot of fun (probaby because of all the alcohol… don’t tell mom about it!).

Since I’ve been a good old vegetarian, yes you heard that right, vegetarian – I made some veggie burgers for the BBQ. Everybody loved them because I’m such an awesome master chef! For the carnivores I made some real burgers with greasy juicy pieces of meat between them. Those burgers are a sure fire recipe for all sorts of future health problems because they immediately clog 80% of your heart’s blood vessels after consumption. Oh well.. bon apetit! PS: Eating meat is very bad and you shouldn’t do it.

Once we were all fattened up with the burgers we just relaxed in the hammock, played some guitar, had a beer on top of a dozen other beers and just relaxed. It was a hot day. Somehow I managed to burn all the hair on my arms… damn that awesome grill and it’s devious ways.

The day after Allen left us we (me and Pete) went to Bribie Island. It’s really close to Brisbane… in fact it should be part of Brisbane if I’m correct. We went for a swim, checked out the beach, tried surfing and had a little workout in a park. Sometimes the parks in Australia have excercise equipment. Anywho… I remember I was working out and eating potato chips at the same time to keep things balanced. You know the Ying and the Yang. Eight-pack here I come!

In the evening we saw some crabs at the beach crawling on the rocks. They were nasty as hell, we were too chicken to catch them. Gross.

We also went to Gold Coast a couple of times to practice surfing. Pete was able to stand on the board for a second or two but I’ve yet to reach his level of mastery.

Alrighty… a couple days ago I noticed a post in the Estonians in Australia Facebook group. There was a girl who was looking for a place to stay in Brisbane. Just for the weekend. Since I’m so generous and generally such a good person I decided that I will offer her a room in my villa. Luckily for her she was based in Gold Coast and I was planning to go surfing, I ended up picking her up and driving her to my place. Her name’s Agni. I know what you’re thinking… “the only reason you offered to host her is because she looked blond and pretty on her profile pic”. Yeah yeah, there was a little bit of that, but my actions were mostly motivated by all the goodness inside of me and the desire to help others in need.

On Sunday all the people living under the same roof as me, went to watch a cricket game at the Gabba stadium. The game was very exciting. Sadly it was such a short game. It only lasted 3 hours. None of the Estonians knew a thing about the game and so we just tried to figure it out ourselves. One hour into the game my roomie Benn and his girl Emily joined us. They gave us a quick introduction to cricket and explained its awesomeness to us. Apparently it’s awesome because it’s so boring and to prevent from dying of boredom people start doing waves, they shout, cheer and dance – it’s a real show.

Ok then. We survived the game. Now I’m a proud Aussie culture consumer. After the game we went for a night out in a pub with Benn’s friends. We talked about politics… we’re such snobs.

On the same day of the cricket game, Agni was looking for a rideshare up north to find a job on a farm and meet with her brother in Bundaberg. She got a couple offers. Pete bought his flight tickets back to Estonia.

Let me tell you guys, buying tickets internationally isn’t easy. First Pete had to find the travel company’s IBAN on Google because they never shared it with him. The company was also very bitchy about payments. They said that the money has to be transfered into their account the next businessday by 5PM. If the money isn’t received by then, the booking will be cancelled. Pete was a bit worried because international money transfers might take a couple of days but luckily he got an email from the travel company which said that they received the money.

Next day the company emailed Pete again and asked for an additional €15 because they didn’t receive the full amount with Pete’s first money transfer. Again they threatened to cancel the booking if the money wasn’t transferred by 5PM the next business day. Bastards! In one email they said, they got the money and the next day they ask for more and threaten to cancel the tickets because of €15. Welcome to Estonia my friends! Pete transfered the huge sum of €15 and got confirmation of receipt. He’s leaving Australia on the 24th Dec.

So here’s the situation. Agni wants to go north, Pete is leaving Australia in 2 weeks and my job situation is pretty bad (usually I get short term gigs through a job agency but last month I only worked 3 days) which leaves me with lots of free time on my hands. We decided that we’re all going on a roadtrip to Cairns and back to Brisbane. Agni will travel up to Bundaberg. I also noticed Rachel (the Canadian I did a rideshare with earlier) posting on Facebook about going on a roadtrip too.. so I contacted her and talked her into giving the finger to her other rideshare option and joining us instead. My negotiation skills are the sh*t!

Next time about my trip,

The Cricket enthusiast

Burglars from Sydney

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After my interview at Aristocrat I had to get back home. As I wrote earlier I found two girls to travel with me and share the fuel costs. My passengers were Rachel from Canada and Anni from Germany.

Similar to my journey to Sydney, everybody got to know each other. We talked about our plans in Australia, our interests and home countries. At that time Anni had been in Australia for 2 weeks, Rachel only for 3 days. None of them knew how to drive on the left side of the road.

About 3 hours after my start in Sydney the traffic on the highway decreased and I decided it was time for one of the girls to learn to drive on the left. Neither of them were very enthusiastic about it but finally Anni agreed to do it.

Anni turned out to be a fabulous student although she sometimes drove faster than the speed limit. She only needed a little bit of coaching in urban areas. Other than that she was perfect behind the wheel.

The initial plan was to drive for 2 days and spend one night somewhere in a rest area in tents. Luckily Anni saved the day… or more accurately saved the night. When she was in Sydney she met a woman at some market. They just talked for a bit and the woman said that if she ever needed a place to crash near Coffs Harbour then she should give her a call. Coffs Harbour is about 500 km north from Sydney and it was on our way to Brisbane. Anyways Anni contacted the woman and her husband Richard to find us accommodation. Richard agreed to host us, gave us his address and we were on our way to his farm.

Richard lived in a place called Upper Orara, about 20 km west from Coffs Harbour. The road to our host’s place was very curvy. At one point the tarmac road ended and we were driving on a gravel road. We found the road Richard was living on but finding his house turned out to be a bit of a challenge.

At one point the gravel road ended. A stream of water went across it. I thought that maybe there was a detour or bridge nearby but didn’t find it. I checked the water depth and thought that my awesome Ford Festiva will have no trouble driving through 20-30 cm of water. I backed up to get some speed and went through the water barrier. About 100 meters later everybody was very happy when we saw Richard’s house number on the mailbox.

Past the private property sign we saw one house. Three cars were in front of it. Somebody was definitely at home although no lights were on in the building. Two little dogs were barking at us as we approached the house to meet Richard.

I had a flashlight with me because it was pitch-dark there. We looked through the windows but didn’t see anyone inside. We were knocking on the windows and doors trying to get some attention from the inhabitants. We did this for a couple of minutes without success. The girls decided to go get their phones from the car and try calling Richard. I stayed at the house to continue knocking.

Suddenly the light went on in the back room and a woman opened the door. I asked whether Richard lived there. She was quiet for a moment then suddenly realized “aaaaaahh… Richard… over there” and pointed me somewhere into the darkness. I apologized for waking her up and went back into my car to find the second house.

About 300 meters down the road we saw another large house. We saw a very similar picture: several cars were parked in front of the house, shoes were in front of the slide doors but no lights were on. Again we used the same technique – knocking and making some noise. We felt like burglars in the night. Nobody came to answer the door and we couldn’t call Richard because none of us had any reception.

We discussed our options. Maybe we should just put up our tents on the lawn in front of the house?

No! It was cold outside and that woman also said that Richard lives there. We travelled too far to give up like that.

Again the girls knocked on the doors and this time they managed to wake somebody up. A rather sleepy man opened the door and said that Richard lives next door. Basically where were two houses next to each other but they were connected with a roofed patio or terrace.

We knocked on the doors again but since that didn’t work and the door was open the girls just walked in. I felt very uncomfortable with that. The last time I did that I was lucky to not get arrested. Anyways Anni and Rachel turned the lights on in the house and looked around. About 30 seconds later we heard somebody’s footsteps from the back of the building and Richard appeared.

Everybody was glad to see him. He was a very interesting person. Somewhat of an artist. I think he was an artist/painter. He made us tea and some sandwiches, we had a small chat and listened to Simon & Garfunkel. There was a lot of room in his house. The girls slept in one room and I had a separate room to sleep in. It was good to sleep in a bed.

Richard left rather early in the morning and left us alone in his house. He said that if we wanted we could stay longer at his place. Richard was really cool about everything.

Sadly we had different plans and had to leave. We packed our stuff and headed to Byron Bay, NSW. Anni did most of the driving.

We weren’t as chatty in the car as on the day before. I was also sick of listening to my 100 greatest driving songs CDs. Once we got to Byron Bay, we went to the beach.

Rachel was like a little kid in a candy store. There was the sea, the beach, beautiful surroundings, rocks and nature. Anni and I laughed as Rachel went into the water and battled the waves. It was funny.

I had a quick swim too. Later we went to see Australia’s most easterly point and took some pictures along the way. Anni decided to stay at the beach instead.

When we came back Anni said that she got a text from her friend who will arrive in Byron Bay the next day. She decided to stay there. I dropped her off at a hostel and we said our final goodbyes. Goodbye Anni, I will miss you and your German bread very much.

I took Rachel to Gold Coast to see the beach and after that drove back home. It was a bit late so we decided that Rachel will crash at my place and will continue her journey in the morning.

Before saying goodbye to Rachel we took some pictures in my home garden. Thanks for joining me Rachel. This trip was a lot of fun. I’m glad I had such wonderful people with me.

Although a bit unrelated to this post I also took a pic with my roomie and his girlfriend. Now you know who I’m living with.

Burglar Apprentice,

Ivar

PS: Aristocrat called me and said that I didn’t get the job.

Brisbane to Sydney

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7 AM Sunday morning was the start of my journey from Brisbane CBD. I picked up Robin (she’s from China) and was on my way towards Sydney. The second girl cancelled the night before and I had no time to find anybody else.

As always in such situations we talked about who we were, where we’re from, our interests, Australia etc. Driving conditions were a bit bad because of rain and some thunder but all that stopped after the first 300 km. I think it was at the New Italy rest area where I decided to let Robin drive.

Her driving was a bit messy at first. I should’ve expected that since she’s never driven my car and had little experience driving a stick. The clutch was a bit problematic, I don’t recall her ever using the 3rd gear, once she got a bit confused about which gear she was in (that would explain why she tried to go into reverse after 5th gear). She was also a bit late on the brakes and almost crashed my car into a trailer. Yes she had a few minor hick-ups but that’s just the nature of the beast. Most of the time we were on the highway and she was an absolute delight driving outside of cities. She did about 300 km and I got my rest and was able to reach Sydney.

Robin was funny and very informative. I learned a lot about China. It was good to have her as a passenger. After I dropped her off I went to Bondi Beach because that’s where Caroline (a friend from the Bundaberg farm) lived.

I was very excited once I reached Bondi. The view on the ocean was crazy beautiful and I found out that Caroline lives only 200-300 meters from the beach. Fantastic location. I’m glad I could crash at her place before the interview.

Caroline was living in a flat with her roommate Andrea. If I understood correctly both of them work in the fashion industry, one works for Prada and one for Chanel.

The last time I saw Caroline was in late June, about 5 months ago. A lot has happened since but sadly we didn’t have enough time to properly catch up because I arrived in the evening and had an early start in the morning. It was good to see her. Thanks Caroline for hosting me! I hope I wasn’t too much trouble.