Peace Corps Videos

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Another Australian Adventure.

For the second September in a row, I ventured south from Tonga to Australia.  Last year it was Brisbane.  This year, I explored the southern coast of the only country that is also a continent visiting Melbourne, Adelaide and Kangaroo Island.

Kangaroo Island

Without a doubt, the highlight of my trip was a two day tour to the very appropriately named Kangaroo Island.  Kangaroo island is located east of Adelaide and is actually quite large.  At 4400 square kilometers, It is five times larger than the total land mass of every island in Tonga combined.

And yes, there are Kangaroos everywhere.

Kangaroo on Kangaroo Island

It was so amazing to see animals in the wild that I had either never seen before or had only seen in a zoo.  This Koala bear was high in a tree  and almost looks like a stuffed animal, but he was very real, munching away on Eucalyptus trees.

Koala Bear

This is an Australian Seal.   It is one of two types of seals on the island.  The other is the New Zealand fur sea which we also saw.  The fur seals actually swim from New Zealand to Australia and can live in the water for months at a time. Australian Seal I spent two days on the island as part of a tour with a company called Surf and Sun.  I was very impressed with this company and would highly recommend them to anyone planning a trip to Kangaroo Island.   

I was joined on the trip by a couple from Germany, five woman from Europe and a woman from Korea.   Surf and Sun Tour GroupThey were all in their 20’s except for the German guy who was 30.   At dinner the first night, I found myself surrounded by six single woman.  One of them said:  “So Steve, I guess you are not used to having dinner with so many girls”.  I responded by saying, “Well actually I am used to that.  Where I live I’m surrounded by woman all the time”.  And another said: “But I’m sure they are much older”.  To which I said, “Actually not, I spend a lot of of my time with single women in their 20’s”.   I then went on to explain that I was one of just three male Peace Corps volunteers on my island and that the rest are all woman.   (They thought that was interesting, but when I told my female friends in Vava’u that story, they all laughed).

I suspect that when I first got on tour bus, this group wasn’t sure what to make of me, this older guy who was on their trip.  But that quickly changed and I know the exact moment that it happened.

As part of the tour, we went to a place called “Little Sahara”.  It’s a huge sand dune that is not on the water, but inland.   We came there to sand board, something I had never done before.   I was the second one down the hill and it was fascinating to see how the attitudes of my group changed once they saw me get on that board.

Steve SandboardingOne other comment about the stay on Kangaroo Island.  We ate really well.  The Surf and Sun tour provided all the food and we took turns cooking and cleaning.

Wine Tasting

Jacobs Creek Winery

I’ve never been to a vineyard before.  When I went to New Zealand in April, I had planned to go, but never made it.  This time, I was determined not to let that happen and signed up for a tour of the Barossa Valley, outside Adelaide.

We visited five wineries and I sampled 30 different wines all in one day.   South Australia, where the region I visited is located, is the top producer of Australian wines.

We didn’t get to taste it, but I did get to smell a 100 year old port wine.   A taste of that would have cost me something like $50.00 Australian dollars (About $40.00 US).  And that wasn’t for a glass, that was just for a taste.

In addition to the wines, I ate kangaroo for lunch along with other assorted meats and salad.   I thought the kangaroo was delicious.  It had obviously been marinated and was quite tender, with a consistency closer to beef.  (I had expected it to taste more like deer.)

One stop that was pretty interesting was at what is called the Whispering Wall.   It’s actually not a wall, but a dam for a reservoir.  However, the acoustics are amazing.  I stood on one side of this dam and in a very low whisper was able to carry on a conversation with someone on the other side, who was also whispering.   It was pretty cool to see that sound could travel that far.

 Whispering Wall

I enjoyed the wine tasting and the visit to the Whispering Wall, but I can’t recommend the tour company that I used.  The firm, called Groovy Grape was an hour late picking us up.   At two of our stops, we were told that because we were so late, they had to cut short our time there.   And then the kicker was that we ended up getting back 20 minutes early. 

Melbourne

I spent five days and four nights in Melbourne.  It’s a really cool and culturally diverse city.   But what is really fascinating about the place is the location of some of its coolest spots.

If you’ve ever worked in any business that depends on customers coming to your location, then you know how important it is to have the right location.  If customers can’t find you, you won’t IMG_3074survive very long.

Apparently someone forgot to tell the folks in Melbourne that.  Because there are tons of bars and restaurants that are located in places where most Americans wouldn’t venture….mainly down dead-end alleys.  This is a photo of one alley in Melbourne during the day.  However, the scene changes dramatically at night when it turns into an alley of thriving nightspots.   These alleys are all over Melbourne and the city is known for having successful businesses in spots that are not so easy to find.   The door on the left is the main entrance to a bar.   But there is not even a sign to tell you the name of the place.

IMG_3079At first glance, you might wander why I would post a photo of a crane next to a building under construction.  But this is one of my favorite photos from the trip.  If you look a little closer, you’ll see the name on the crane is “Tonga Excavations”.

So even 1500 miles away from Tonga, I had a reminder of where I had come from and where I would soon be returning.  

Cumulatively, I’ve now spent almost a month in Australia and I’m not done yet.  Once I complete my Peace Corps service, I’m heading to Cairns, to go diving on the Great Barrier Reef and then down to Sydney before heading back to the USA.

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