The Indian Pacific Railway.

Let me preface this post by saying this was an odd travel experience. 

Traveling solo is hard. I could say it hasn't bothered me all that much, but I'd be lying. I think the hardest part about traveling alone, is how much it bothers other people. 

I'm a 35-year-old single female with no kids traveling alone. I'm not exactly the typical "traveler." Most of the folks I've met throughout the past few months fit into one of four categories: backpackers (typically recent university grads in their 20's), couples (on honeymoon, anniversary or holiday), corporate travelers or retirees (now that they don't have to work, they have the time and $ to travel.) The Indian Pacific was packed chock-full of the latter. And they just could not grasp why on earth I would want to travel by myself. During a dinner, where I was the only young (and single) person at a table of about 20 - no one would talk to me. I honestly think they were afraid of me. I had to start encroaching into people's conversations. 

The conversation went something like this - Them: "I could just never imagine travel alone. Isn't it really hard to travel alone?" Me: "Only when people make it awkward like you are now."

So I had to explain it to them - and once we got that, and the inevitable (and constant) questions about Trump out of the way, we had some fun. 

I booked this train trip based on the experience described in Bill Bryson's book, A Sunburned Country. Three nights and four days from Sydney to Perth via Broken Hill, Adelaide, Cook and Kalgoorlie, one way, 4,352km (2704 miles.) Australia is a big country, like a very, very big ass country (the distance from Sydney to Perth is roughly 180 miles short of New York to California.) 

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The ticket I booked was all-inclusive - all excursions, food, drink, my own sleeper car, etc. were included. Basically an all-inclusive cruise, but on a train. So, I really shouldn't have been surprised that it was ALL old people who had tacked the train trip on as a return to Perth from a three-week cruise around Australia and New Zealand. And I'm not agist - some of my best friends are in their 80's, but I don't think it quite prepared me for four days and 4,000 km of retirees from Perth.

Thank God there was one (yep you heard it, one) other young person on the trip. A nice young English graduate student on a six-month working holiday visa who, despite being gay and 13 years younger than me, everyone thought I was dating. 

Truth be told, it was a fantastic trip. I think it might be similar to a small cruise ship? You become close with all of the other passengers because you literally have nowhere else to go other than your tiny little sleeper car or the bar/dining cars. Or, it could have been the free alcohol. But by the time we docked at Perth, we were all best friends. 

Check out my spacious digs below:

The first morning we went on a short tour through Broken Hill - a frontier mining town in the outback that could easily host the set of The Hills Have Eyes. 

That evening we would make a stop in Adelaide, switch staff and pick up a few more passengers. While the crew was getting situated, we had a choice of excursions, and of course I chose the wine tour. We were bussed to the McClaren Valley, area where we toured the d'Arenberg Cube - an extremely bizarre modern art gallery/winery where they uncomfortably rushed us through a wine tasting. They did have a cool video wall though. Dinner followed at a local seafood restaurant with some killer views of a coastal sunset. 

That evening, back on the train, a feisty Bavarian named Cordy joined the trip. Wooo, another SOLO female traveler! Cordy, Will, all of the other experienced lushes and myself drank and shared stories until early in the AM.

The next day we travelled straight through the Nullabor - an area of flat, almost treeless nothingness. Which was good, because I was a little hungover. 

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Mid-day we stopped in the small abandoned town of Cook, population 4 - all with the sole purpose of fueling the Indian Pacific. It was hot and infested with flies. And a bit creepy, but we'd been on the train for 15 hours and it felt good to get off and walk around a bit. The town itself was effectively closed in 1997 when the railways were privatized and the new owners didn't need a support town there.

That evening we stopped in Rawlinna for BBQ and some live music - in which I do have video but my singing along might take the pain off your walls so I will save you and not post it :)

Days on the train went like this:  breakfast, nap, lunch, happy hour, dinner, bed, repeat. I struggled writing this post because I think it might be one of those things where you had to be there. As weird of an experience as it was, I'd do it all over again. As a matter of fact, I WILL come back to do The Ghan - same train but going from Adelaide to Darwin. Hopefully it's filled with as many odd characters as the Indian Pacific was. 

New Zealand - North Island.

I am so late on this blog post - sorry! I headed off to New Zealand on the 5th of March, only to be welcomed upon my return by two of the most lovely visitors Gary (Glen's brother and friend of over 15 years! And his Mrs, Nicole.) Needless to say the days starting blending together and I couldn't be bothered posting whilst having fun. So. On that note, here goes New Zealand.

**Note: Copy will be heavy up top, bear with me for the photos to follow further down - it's worth it.

As much as I've been traveling, this was the first international flight I've taken since I stepped off my Delta flight in January. I landed in Auckland during rush hour, and didn't realize that the AirBnb I booked was north of the city and I was currently on the southside. After about a two-hour drive and finally getting to my accommodation, I was a bit disappointed to find out that the place I booked was more of a hostel than an actual AirBnb. And it was in the middle of a nowhere-neighborhood (and there were two daddy long legs living in the nightstand by my bed. Igh.) I hopped back into my car, drove to some weird hotel restaurant and called it an early night - opposite the spiders.

The next morning I took off early for Cooks Beach on the Coromandel Peninsula. I rented a room with a lovely couple (Joanne and Frank) and they were going to cook me dinner that night. Woo! I stopped for a takeaway coffee somewhere between fields, sheep and cows, and discovered for the first time that my credit cards don't really work in New Zealand. Shit. And I had no cash. She gave me the coffee on the house. Thank God - next stop, ATM. Actually next stop(s), Cooks Beach because there were not stores in between. Met with my hosts, dropped my bags off and headed at their recommendation to hike Cathedral Cove. It was a fairly hot, but beautiful day for a hike. After a good hour or so of walking and stopping to take photos I ended of at the Cove. Unreal. 

 

 

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I was going to head to nearby Hot Water Beach but I was hot, a bit tired and had a date with my hosts for dinner at half-six. So instead of Hot Water Beach, I stopped for an ice cold beer and headed back for a shower. Frank and Joanne made possibly the best meal I've had thus far - started with happy hour of gin and tonics (with limes from their trees!) with a spread of guacamole, brie, olives and veggies, followed by a bottle of New Zealand Sav Blanc, and all locally-sourced lamb, potatoes and salad. Even cracked open another bottle of wine for the candied pear dessert. Needless to say bedtime wasn't far off. 

Got up early the next morning, took a long walk along Cooks Beach, showered and headed to Hobbit land. This was the first trip I've done that I planned all my nights ahead of time - due to a pretty rainy forecast. Tonight I was to stay in the small village of Cambridge, so I had to choose my day's adventures wisely. I decided today was Hobbiton, Rotorua and/or the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves. By the time I got to Hobbiton, the queue for the tours would have had me occupied for the next 5 hours. So again, I decided to have some lunch and head to Rotorua. I did, however take a picture of the sign. 

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I'm so happy I went to Rotorua. I've heard some mixed reviews, but I was completely blown away - and it was raining! Stopped at the visitor center for some advice and headed out to explore. Rotorua is known for its geothermal activity, and features geysers  and hot mud pools. This thermal activity is sourced to the Rotorua caldera, on which the town lies. So frickin' cool. The photos below are from Kuirau Park and Lake Rotorua.

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And of course, I stopped for a beer. And there was a Prince-inspired beer. Ha! 

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Left for Cambridge, where I was welcomed by Danielle, her wonderful family of seven and a glass of wine. She offered to take me out to dinner (I think she needed a night out from her five kids) and we giggled our way through some amazing wine, fried chicken and asian slaw. We biked home in the pouring rain and it felt like I was ten-years-old again. Great night.

The next morning I was greeted with a delicious flat white espresso and headed to the worm caves. I wasn't all that impressed with the glow worm tour - felt a little Disney-esque, but the hike I did afterward was really cool (and of course ended it with a beer.) And PS, they wouldn't let you take pictures in the caves so the photo below is of a postcard. Hehe. 

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The next few nights I was to stay outside of Tongariro National Park with the goal of hiking the Alpine Crossing the next day. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a 19.1K (12.1) mile track that passes over the volcanic terrain of the multi-cratered active volcano Mount Tongariro, passing the eastern base of Mount Ngauruhoe.

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This was a must-do while on the north island. Unfortunately, the weather was against me. The original shuttle I had scheduled canceled due to gale-force winds. However, sneaky sneaky me, I booked two shuttles and the other one was on schedule.

All bundled, packed and ready to go, I boarded the shuttle. It ended up being one of the most fantastic hikes of my trip. I befriended an Estonian gal and we conquered all 19 kilometers of the mountain. It was terrifying. It was breathtaking. It was incredible.

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Went to bed at 8 PM that evening. Exhausted but proud. 

The next morning I picked up my Estonian friend and we headed for Wellington - her for a flight and me to meet my friend from Women in AV, Laureen. 

Laureen's house sits atop Wadestown in a giant old Victorian house - which seems to be necessary because there were about ten of us staying there (Laureen's husband, brother-in-law, nephew, daughter, granddaughter and some boarders). I helped with a bit of yard work and settled down to some beers and conversation with the crew. We ended the evening with a splash in the hot tub. 

 

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The next day we set out to tour the city - which is absolutely beautiful by the way. The entire city sits atop rolling hills and cliffs that give way to the CBD eventually ending at numerous aquamarine bays. After a nice drive we headed in to the festival by the bay, had some lunch and did some exploring. Weather in Wellington is a bit hit-and-miss but we got a beautiful HOT day. Wellington's fringe festival was in full swing, so we picked up some tickets to a performance later that evening. All-in-all a great day, followed by a great evening. 

My flight the next didn't leave until 3 PM do my plan was to pack up and head to the city and take more photos, but that was a bit derailed when I couldn't find a place to park and almost killed someone with my rental car.

I headed back to Sydney to meet my friends. Waiting on some photos from their visit and then I'll post the mayhem from last week. Today I am hopping on the Indian Pacific Railroad to Perth. Not sure what service I have, but hopefully I can post as I go on this one (assuming I'll have some time considering we'll be covering 4,352k. 

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Slight Detour.

Let me preface this post by saying that I did really enjoy the Great Ocean Road itself - there were just a few hiccups along the way. I arrived in Torquay on Wednesday (only about an hour outside of Melbourne) with plenty of time to do some exploring. Checked into my AirBnb, stopped at the flagship Billabong and Rip Curl stores and came out with a new baseball cap. Score. Time to head to the beach, but not after having a late lunch/early dinner of Red Snapper Poke, which was delicious by the way. Walked the beaches and called it an early night. 

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Thursday morning I woke up nice and early to get a head start on the Great Ocean Road! At the advice of my AirBnB host I stopped in Lorne for a coffee and biscuit. This is where things started to go downhill. Little did I realize that this week was Chinese New Year holiday. I am not a racist person, but holy mackerel, were there hoards of people everywhere. I couldn't even get down the sidewalk. I grabbed my coffee to go, and headed on towards the 12 Apostles. I was a bit nervous about accommodation because everyone I talked to said, 'no, no don't worry, all the kids are back in school - you won't have any issues.' Except for Chinese New Year. 

I stopped a few times for photos (you'll see below) and ended up snagging the last room at a campground in Princetown. I stopped for a quick ham and cheese sandwich and decided to hit the Twelve Apostles that night and get the hell off the Great Ocean Road the following day. Crowds give me anxiety. 

Just a small slice of the Great Ocean Road. Absolutely beautiful. 

Just a small slice of the Great Ocean Road. Absolutely beautiful. 

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The Twelve Apostles are a collection of limestone stacks formed by erosion located just oustide of Port Campbell. Currently, there are only eight left, the ninth collapsing in July of 2005. They were worth the hike (and the mass amounts of Chinese people.) 

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I won't go into too much detail of that evening - if you've ever experienced food poisoning, you know what I mean. I think it was the ham and cheese sandwich.

I will tell you the next morning, after about two hours of total sleep (and about 5 million mosquito bites from running back and forth to the campground bathroom), my trip had taken a turn for the worst. 

I had to check out that morning at 10 AM and couldn't check into my room that night until 4 PM. What the hell was I going to do for six hours with a gut that felt like the aftermath of a tornado? At the advice of my friend Glen, I headed to a dormant volcano. I parked at the bottom, pulled out my sleeping bag and took a two-hour nap in the back of the SUV. I woke up sweating with three hours to kill. I figured I'm here, so I hiked the volcano. 

Mount Leura is a volcanic cone surrounding a dry crater 100 meters deep and is the central and component of a larger volcanic complex in the area. Honestly, to me it just looked like a big hill - but it was enough of a hike to kill a few hours.

Mount Leura

Mount Leura

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It was finally time to check into my new accommodations. I booked a room at this American-Horror-Story-type hotel with rooms upstairs and a nice little pub/restaurant downstairs. 

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This place was amazing. I took a shower and melted into the pillows. The next day was much, much, MUCH better. I had a good 6 hour drive, so after a cup of tea, I hit the road and headed to Grampians National Park. Stopped at a cute little winery just outside of Halls Gap and got some tips on where to hike later in the day. I booked two nights at the Kookaburra Motor Lodge - best decision of my trip. The couple who own the motel are the sweetest, friendliest people I've met on the trip. The wife came running after me in the parking lot, 'Kelly, Kelly, come see the kookaburras!' And the view from my patio was unbelievable - filled with the Grampian mountain range, kangaroos, ducks and cockatoos. I met the kookaburras, changed into hiking gear and set out on a 5-hour hike to the pinnacle. Wow. Only pictures will do it justice. 

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I treated myself to a nice dinner that evening at the Kookaburra motel and hit the hay. Got up early the next morning and hit the mountains once again. A whole lotta wow. 

I considered staying an extra day, but there's so much more to see, so I headed to Renmark, a town in South Australia's rural Riverland area. I booked myself a room in a riverboat of course. Checked in, had a beer and headed to the river to do a sunset kayak tour. As luck would have it, it was just me and the tour guide Jim. 

Murray Riverboat Queen.

Murray Riverboat Queen.

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Murray River - kayak tour.

Murray River - kayak tour.

Got up in the morning, went for a little run along the river and headed to the Barossa Valley. The Barossa Valley is a fairly wine-producing region north of Adelaide - similar to Nappa Valley in the U.S. I rented a room from two gals who run a small farm in Rowland Flat. I was greeted by two Kelpies and some chickens. Perfect. I spent the first evening drinking wine with my hosts, petting their horses and watching them do farm work. Not a bad night. The next morning, I borrowed a bicycle, hopped on the trail and did my own personal wine tour. I made it through Jacob's Creek, St. Hallett's and Rockford. Rockford was by far the best because they actually make their wine the traditional way (which I don't really understand, but it looked cool and the bartenders were the friendliest.) 

My accommodations in the Barossa Valley. 

My accommodations in the Barossa Valley. 

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Jacob's Creek - the largest winery in Australia. 

Jacob's Creek - the largest winery in Australia. 

Rockford Winery - I actually got to the try the Shiraz grapes!

Rockford Winery - I actually got to the try the Shiraz grapes!

So now I am back in Sydney for the weekend - FINALLY have WiFi. Heading to the southern coast tomorrow and back Sunday. Booked a flight to Auckland on Monday, so New Zealand, here I come!

The Great Ocean Road.

After spending my last evening in Melbourne with an old friend and his family chatting, laughing and sampling some of the best Croatian liqueur I've ever had (the only Croatian liqueur I've ever had), I headed west to begin the Great Ocean Road. Picked up my car, and unlike my first day in Tasmania, it was quite easy to drive (like riding a bike eh?) 

I decided to kick the trip off with a first night in Torquay (the beginning - or the end, depending on where you start - of the Great Ocean Road.) This is what I think of when I think of a California surf town (only in Oz) and home to Rip Curl and Quicksilver. Just dropped my bags off at my AirBnb and going to head to the beach. Leaving a map of the Great Ocean Road to see where I will be heading over the next week!

 

Melbourne.

Made it to Melbourne yesterday evening after a nice, relaxing weekend in Sydney (what most days in Sydney have been to date.) Met up with my AirBnB host in the Carlton neighborhood, got settled and headed off to explore. I did a bit of research on Melbourne before arriving and ended up in an area called Fitzroy. It's described online as a lively suburb with a bohemian reputation, full of eclectic bars and restaurants are popular with students, weekenders and young professionals. I found it to be a bit dirty - a bit like Minneapolis' uptown circa 1998. However, they did have an entire street of vintage clothing stores and a killer coffee joint. By the time I strolled south down Brunswick Street toward the river, the foot traffic from rush hour, as well as the wind started to pick up (like a lot.) And I was starting to get hangry. An old coworker of mine who lives in Melbourne sent recommendations for some great Italian near my accommodations, so I whipped u-turn and headed back north.

One thing I've noticed about Melbourne (being here a whole whopping 16 hours), is that it takes a LONG TIME to get anywhere on foot. The map makes everything look really close, until you zoom in and more and more roads suddenly appear. Took me a good 45 minutes to get to Lygon Street through the mobs of folks heading home from work. And the wind was still picking up (like literally-branches-were-flinging-off-trees type of windy.)

Made it to a small Thai restaurant and ordered a Peroni. Felt good to sit, find my bearings and rest my feet. Did some TripAdvisoring and ended up at La Spaghettata Restaurant, where I stuffed my face with a caesar salad and some of the most delicious seafood spaghetti marinara I've ever had. Was in bed by 8:30 and that, folks was my first day in Melbourne. 

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