The next day was one for exploration of Auckland. A map and a guidebook (of which we had neither) can show you all of the sights you are meant to see, but it is not until you walk the pavement and see the buildings and churches and bridges in full relief that you really begin to know a city. As we are fond of saying, we are never lost, we just don't always know where we are. It may seem like a semantic distinction, but it is in fact the essence of truly free travel. If you set out without destination and free yourself to the whims of chance, the secrets and soul of a place will reveal themselves in time.
In Auckland, all rambles eventually end up at the sea. Being an island nation, New Zealanders are fanatical about the water and particularly sailing and the ocean has informed much of the country's history. Fittingly, we walked by the Maritime Museum and decided to pay a visit.
Ahoy! The Museum wasn't overly spectacular, but it was informative and fun so we counted it as a positive cultural experience.
We hopped an early morning Airbus to the airport and soon we were onboard one of the worst airlines in the world: Aerolineas Argentinas. We used accumulated miles for our roundtrip Auckland-Sydney-Auckland flights and realized once we took the flights why the ticket required so few miles. Fortunately, we made it to Sydney in one piece. While in Sydney, we were graciously hosted by our friend Brigitte (Brig), a native of Brisbane whom we met on Corfu in Greece and reunited with in Istanbul. Brig is in her first year of studying medicine in Sydney and has an apartment in Leichhardt, a close suburb of Sydney. It was an easy combination of a train and a bus to make it to her place.
We had absolutely no plans for our two weeks in Australia, merely the faintest notion that we wanted to see Sydney and then get out and explore a bit. We spent an afternoon on the internet figuring out all of our options and pricing different modes of transportation and eventually settled on a rental car and a vague idea of driving north. First, we were going to spend a couple of days in Sydney checking out the sights and some of the nightlife. Perhaps it is here that I should mention that we took very few pictures of our time down under. After an overload of pictures in Asia, we often couldn't be bothered to take pictures. Not much of what we did lent itself to pictorial depiction anyway, and we rather enjoyed being free from the sometimes annoying yoke of the camera.
Lauren with the instantly recognizable Sydney Opera House in the background.
Yeah, it was a pretty nice day to be outside. We took in the abundant sunshine while walking around the Opera House, Circular Quay, and through the Royal Botanical Gardens.
Brig and Lauren, with the latter doing her best diva impersonation while we waited for the bus to take us into the city for a Friday night on the town.
At just about the same time, in another quadrant of the sky, a rainbow streaked across the horizon. Oddly, in yet another quadrant, the blue skies shined on as if nothing were the matter. Ten seconds after this picture was taken, a massive deluge was unleashed, forcing us to seek shelter in a nearby cafe.
The next morning we continued north, eventually making it to the hippie town of Nimbin. After a "choke and slide" (PB&J) picnic lunch in Nimbin, we intended to stop for a couple of days in the backpacker haven of Byron Bay. However, as we drove into town, we both had an overwhelming feeling that we wanted to find a place that was off the beaten track. So, we bypassed Byron Bay and rode north for about 20 kilometers to a small beachside town called Brunswick Heads. In town, we found a cute little motel and booked two nights there. It was definitely the right decision. The beach at Brunswick Heads was quaint and sparsely populated and we had a very enjoyable and quiet time. Our second night in town we picked up supplies at the market and cooked ourselves a fantastic steak dinner on the motel's grill.
The next stop on our road trip was the seaside town of Coolangatta, located right on the Queensland side of the border with the state of New South Wales. Coolangatta is a world-renowned surf spot at the southern end of Australia's Gold Coast. Being the offseason, it was the ideal mix of populated and quiet. After our first night at the hostel there, we decided that we would spend the rest of our non-Sydney Australia time in the town, which had great beach access and was close to other towns along the Gold Coast. Moreover, our hostel had a fabulous kitchen, which was a huge luxury for the two of us, who really missed cooking. We soon settled into an idyllic daily routine of sleeping late, cooking breakfast, walking three minutes to the beach, doing an afternoon activity (or not), cooking a great dinner, going out for drinks or a movie (or not), reading, and then falling asleep. It was the perfect mini-vacation.
Lauren with our Holden Epica in the parking lot in Coolangatta, just prior to our departure back to Sydney.
Happily, we visited this hospital merely to rub the nose of the boar for good luck. Since we made it home cheerful and healthy, I can only assume that it worked.
A typical Australian cabinet. Aussies love their Vegemite so much (it is gross, do not listen to them) that they often take a mini-jar around when they travel.
During a night on the town in Balmain, I stumbled upon my eponymous carnivore emporium.
Relaxing and people-watching on a beautiful afternoon in Sydney's Hyde Park.
Preparing vegetables for dinner in Brig's kitchen.
The view of Auckland city from the top of Mt. Eden.
One of the best parts about Mt. Eden was our discovery of De Post, a Belgian brasserie. With my Belgian heritage and love of beer, this was an incredible find. We were both thrilled, particularly so by the mussels and pommes frites, which De Post offered in various styles. Our favorite was the pot of mussels in a lobster and brandy broth. Although it is a Belgian delicacy, the mussel pots had a local twist owing to the species of mussel on offer: the New Zealand-sourced and huge green-tipped mussel. We ended up having several meals at De Post.
There were many beers in their reserve which I had never previously had the opportunity to sample, including this Orval.
Video of my first jump. As fate would have it, the day we planned to go they were offering a special two jumps for the price of one promotion.
I was definitely stoked on the first jump and as I was hoisted back up to the platform, I was already looking forward to jumping again.
As you can hopefully see from the video, I got dunked (on purpose) on my second jump. While the jump was not that high, I can assure you that it was a fantastic rush.
As part of the bungy jumping experience, we got to walk within the bowels of the Auckland Harbour Bridge and had to wear helmets to protect us from falling road debris and construction activities. You can see the city in the background. I was understandably still jonesing from a surge of adrenaline.
Lauren is completely fearless and a thrill-seeker and I know that she was disappointed that she could not bungy jump. However, completely in line with her title as "Best Wife In The World," she was incredibly supportive and enthusiastic.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank our families for their incredible levels of support over the past year (and truly, going back to the time of our conception). Unequivocably, seeing our families when we got home was the best part of returning to America as we had missed them terribly. Thanks also go out to all of our friends who stayed in contact and kept sending messages of enthusiasm. They kept us going strong when times got tough. We are also thrilled to have the privilege of having met some of the most amazing people on Earth over the past year and we look forward to visiting with them again at their various outposts around the globe.
As a final note, I would say that I must have been born under a lucky star to have the outrageous fortune to have met and married the sweetest, most daring, most adventurous, most beautiful, silliest, smartest, most supportive, most understanding, most hilarious, and most loving wife in the entire universe. Lauren, I love you with all of my heart.
NOTE: This blog will be on indefinite hiatus as we move forward with our plan to move to Boulder, Colorado and (gasp!) likely settle down for good. Should any adventures befall us that warrant additional posts, we send word around. Thank you for reading.