Sunday, February 27, 2011

Australia Day

Australia’s largest national holiday is Australia Day – celebrated on the 26th of January every year.  Australia Day is the Australian equivalent of the 4th of July.  Big festivals dominate the cities, and thousands head to the beach and BBQs.  And of course, just like the 4th of July, fireworks provide entertainment in the evening. 

Australia Day doesn’t actually celebrate Australia’s independence from Britain, partially because Australia isn’t 100% independent (Australia still recognizes the queen) and partially because Australia was federated on January 1, 1901 – and that’s already a public holiday – New Year’s Day.  So, what we now call Australia Day actually commemorates the landing of the First Fleet in Sydney Harbour on January 26th, 1788.  Note that the first European settlers to Australia came AFTER the United States had already declared and won independence from Britain.  Crazy, eh?

Australia Day is quite controversial.  The Aboriginal people often call it Invasion Day – marking the day the Europeans came in and began to slowly destroy native culture – and many argue that a national holiday should encompass all Australians, both indigenous and white.  There is even dissent amongst those of European descent for other reasons.  Some claim that the holiday doesn’t have real national significance as the date marks the founding of the colony of New South Wales – not any of the other 6 states.  It’d be like the United States taking Massachusetts Day, renaming it, and turning it into a federal holiday.  Still others point to the fact that most of the settlers were convicts, so we’re basically celebrating the day that a bunch of white criminals in chains arrived in what was then an extremely rough place to live.  It’s an interesting premise for a holiday.

But still, Australia Day is a massive holiday and millions of Australians celebrate it every year.  It fell on day 5 of our Western Australian adventure, and we decided to join in on the fun.  We checked out of our cute cottage at the winery and stopped at Prevelly Beach on our way out of Margaret River.

Ooo la la, Karen!  Then we drove up to Fremantle and arrived to find this warning sign at the check-in desk at our hostel:

It was truly a riches to rags story – from the cute cottage one night to the hostel from hell the next.  But no worries, mate – because there’s beer to be drunk.  We quickly checked out the Australia Day Fair in the main park in Fremantle.  The fair was complete with a citizenship ceremony which I found to be a nice touch.  Welcoming new Australians into the country has become a tradition on Australia Day.

Then it was off to see some little creatures… at the Little Creatures Brewery!  I had been dying to go here as I’ve been enjoying their beers in Sydney.

We started with a sampler of their main brews before moving onto food and a few pints each.

The table next to us helped Australianize us a bit.



Voila!  We’re Aussies!  (Well, Cade was already an Aussie, but he became an ultra-Aussie.)

Our table had a lovely view of the harbour, and we inadvertently got a front row seat for the Australia Day Fireworks!

In summation:  Australia Day was pretty successful, despite the fact that we were unable to consume enough beer to provide even slight relief from the imminent pain to be induced by our stay at the Backpackers Inn Freo.  Next time I’m springing for the Hyatt Regency.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Dudes For A Day

Western Australia.  Day 4.  7:00am.  We arrive at Gracetown – one of the most popular swimming beaches in the Margaret River Region.  And.  It’s.  Completely.  Ours. !!!!!

Not a soul in sight.  What a way to start the day off!  Why were we up so early?  It’s because we wanted to get in a little swim before our big wine tour day.  At 9:30 we were picked up by the Lonely Planet-recommended tour guide:  Wine for Dudes!

That’s seriously what it’s called.  Why would I make that up?  And you know what that means?  Karen was a dude for a day... hahaha!

The Margaret River Region is home to only 3% of Australia’s wine production, but a whopping 25% of Australia’s premium wine production.  Who determines what is premium and what is not remains a mystery to me, but I think that would be a totally rockin’ job to have.  I wish I could get paid to determine which burritos were premium and which ones were rubbish.

The first winery was fantastic.  They had pretty mosaics out front and Karen got to sit in a throne.  One of the ladies who works there is actually currently on a popular Australian reality TV show called “The Farmer Wants A Wife” – which is basically like “The Bachelor” except they get men from rural Australia to date city women who wouldn’t mind marrying a hick and moving to a farm (our winemaker was the first lady to be a contestant with 8 city men to choose from).  Their wine was superb – even the reds, which I normally don’t like – and I walked away with a delicious bottle of Chenin Blanc.

I refrained from purchasing more than one bottle, but had I known the remaining wineries weren’t going to be as good, I would’ve purchased a bit more.  Wine wasn’t the only thing in the cards for the day.  As with any good wine tour, there was of course a stop at a chocolate factory.  I purchased.  We ate it that night.

And there was a stop at an olive oil factory.  They had the most delicious macadamia pesto tapenade.  And by most delicious, I mean it was boneriffic.  I purchased.  We ate it that night.

We stopped at another winery called Hay Shed Hill (which I thought was called “Haitian Hill” until I saw it in writing) and we got to do a little wine mixing on top of our wine tasting.  We had a Cabernet and Shiraz and got to mix them together in different proportions to see how the flavours changed.  It was sort of like high school chemistry class except drinking the liquids here didn’t burn any holes through anyone’s esophagus.

Along the way we also picked up a solo British backpacker named Dean.  He was tragically heterosexual but we adopted him as one of our own anyway and brought him back to our cottage for dinner.  But before we cooked, we decided it would be fun to play around a little in the vineyards behind our cottage.

And then Cade, Dean, and Karen cooked us dinner.

And I took pictures.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

5 Oceans, 1 Pirate Cow, & Fisting

Day 3 of Western Australia began with a drive to the small town of Augusta to have a quick breakfast.  The most exciting part of the drive:  I saw my first emus in the wild!  Three of them to be exact!  Two were grazing on the size of the road, and the other was also on the side of the road… dead.  After that excitement we headed a few minutes south to Cape Leeuwin, the southwesternmost point of Australia. The Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse is open for tours so we decided to check it out.  And what we found was…

A warning sign.  Great.

A pirate cow that Cade was very fond of (why was this even here???)

And a sign alerting us to the divide between the Indian Ocean and the Southern Ocean.

What’s interesting is that I had never heard of the “Southern Ocean” until I arrived in Australia.  In North America (at least in North American schools in the 1990’s), we learned there were four oceans:  Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, and Arctic.  No “Southern Ocean” existed.  The three major oceans went down to Antarctica and that was it.  But here, they declare that the body of water between Australia/New Zealand and Antarctica is the Southern Ocean.  Further research revealed that they do indeed teach five oceans in Australia, but that scientists and oceanographers themselves are still a bit vague on whether or not the Southern Ocean constitutes an ocean.  Some believe like I was taught – that the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian oceans reach all the way down to Antarctica.  Some believe like Australians are taught – that there is a Southern Ocean between here and the cold, penguin-inhabited continent at the bottom.  Some believe that the Southern Ocean surrounds all of Antarctica – not just the space between here and there – but there are disagreements as to how far up the Southern Ocean extends.  Is it 60°? 50°? Or even as high as 35°?  And are we supposed to call it the Southern Ocean or the Antarctic Ocean as some sources indicate?

I’m going to stick with my list of four oceans until Wikipedia can provide an undisputed confirmation.

Oh yeah, and we also found a lighthouse!

And Karen then proceeded to fist it.

After our lighthouse adventure, we headed up to the Margaret River region – one of the premier wine regions of Australia.  We decided to splurge a bit on accommodation, so we stocked up on groceries and checked into our cottage at Adinfern Estate, a local winery.  In our backyard:  vineyards!

We then drove around a bit to explore the region, starting with the Busselton Jetty which sticks out over a mile into the ocean.  We were none-too-pleased to find only the first 200 meters open as the rest was closed for refurbishment.  Refurbish this, Busselton.

Then to Yallingup Beach – one of the most renowned surfing beaches in Australia!  We didn’t surf.  We just walked.

And a stop at the Coast Rocks:

Dusk hit and we retired to our cute country cottage and had a home-cooked pasta dinner.

And beer.  And a game or two of Celebrity Head.  And a little Kill, Marry, Fuck as well.

Monday, February 14, 2011

#89: Tree Top Walk!

Day 2 of Western Australia started out with a trip to Denmark!!!  Ooooo yes!!!  We went to Copenhagen and Tivoli Gardens and Legoland and we drank all the Carlsberg and Tuborg we could guzzle down!!!

Ok, no we didn’t.  We just bought some meat pies.

The small town of Denmark, Western Australia, was our breakfast stop on the way to do some outdoorsy stuff.  Denmark is a cute little town with less than 5,000 and one of the tour books I read said that gays and hippies were moving there and that the town was very gay-friendly.  And where there are gays, there is bound to be good brunch.  I had to check this out.

Survey said:  the town was adorable but I didn’t see any gays.  It was raining a bit, so maybe they were staying inside so their hair didn’t get messed up.  Also, it was 8am and most gays don’t get up until noon on weekends, so maybe they were sleeping.  Brunch did turn out to be absolutely delicious, which leads me to believe that the tour books weren’t lying.  After brunch, we stumbled on a bakery that apparently has the best meat pies in Australia.  We took some to go and ate them later for lunch.  They weren’t all that and a bag of potato chips, but in their defense, we did eat them cold.

See we were in Denmark!  There was a sign in the bakery that said no photos allowed, but I took one anyway.  I’m such a rebel.

Then we were off to a destination picked by Cade and/or Karen from one of the pamphlets they snagged from somewhere:  the Elephant Rocks!  I was skeptical at first, but they actually did look a bit like elephants…

Now, can you imagine my reaction had I been squeezed between two actual elephants instead of two elephant rocks?  And look at Karen way down there in the back.  She’d be right near their butts.  Ewww!

And then it was the moment I had been waiting for.  The big thing for Day 2 and one of the biggest things I had on my itinerary for the trip.  #89 on my list of 103 things to do:  the Tree Top Walk!

Suspended 40 meters above the ground, we got to walk around the canopy of the “Valley of the Giants”, named for the tall tree old-growth forests that are found there.

Then, after that’s done, you can walk around the base of the trees on a boardwalk they installed down below.  The trunks of the tingle trees (seriously, they are called tingle trees) naturally hollow out over decades and centuries due to viruses and bacteria and stuff.  Some are so big that you can park a car inside.

“Hey, what’s that smell?”
“I don’t know, but it sorta smells like a koala just farted...”

After wandering through the giant trees, we checked ourselves into the Best Western hotel in the small town of Pemberton.  It was much nicer than the budget motel we were in the night before.  We then headed for Gloucester National Park to check out the Gloucester Tree.  The tree stands 61 meters tall and has metal pegs sticking out of it so you can climb to the tree house at the top.

Karen and Cade went all the way up.  I… I made it about 4 meters or so and said fuck it.  The last thing I needed was to fall off a damn tree.  I was happy on the bench.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Fat People, Snakes, & Full Strength Beer

Day 1 of Western Australia started out with something I hadn’t seen in a long time:

Fat people.

Due to the time change, our 5 hour flight landed in Perth at 8am.  We quickly grabbed our rental car and decided to stop at a local shopping mall on the outskirts of Perth to grab a quick breakfast before the 5 hour drive down to Albany.  And this mall that we found was just full of fat people.  It’s something that I hadn’t seen in a long time.

All of my Aussie friends have told me that Australia now rivals the United States for the percentage of obese people, but living in a wealthier part of Sydney with lots of young people, gay people, and beach-goers of all sorts, most people keep in good shape (except for me of course).  But here – in the inland suburbs of Perth – probably in an area that’s not all that well-to-do, there were people of all shapes and sizes – namely plump, chubby, rotund, and grotesque.  The general setting of the mall – with its tacky stores (i.e. K-mart) and food court and fat people walking around – just reminded me of something straight out of Texas.  It was like a blast from the past.  I imagine Sydney’s western suburbs are similar to this.  I’ll stay away from them.

Later that day we arrived in Albany – the first British settlement in Western Australia and a sizeable city (by Australian standards) with a population of over 30,000.  After checking into our low-budget motel, I realized that I didn’t have anything planned for the afternoon, which is strange because I’m normally a control freak and most days’ itineraries were planned weeks in advance.  I handed the reins to Cade and Karen.  After consulting the iPhone and a few tourist brochures that they snagged, we headed to the coast.  First stop:  blowholes!

The blowholes are caused by waves that force water up through cracks in the rock and then they blow into the air in a grand performance.  Sadly, the waves weren’t strong enough to make the blowholes blow that day, so we headed back up the hill to our car.  On the way, we were greeted by a friend…

My first snake in Australia.  I’ll call him Mr. Slithers.  My original name for him was Mr. Getthefuckoutofhere, but now that I’m in the safety of my own home, I’ll give him a kinder, more gentle name.  We waited for a few moments before Mr. Slithers slithered off into the bush, but rest assured that I was on the verge of panic for the remainder of the short hike back to our car.

Next stop:  the Gap!  I was all excited thinking I might get to buy some new jeans or a sweater vest, but then I realized that “the gap” was a gap in the rock where waves crash in a nice display.

This is where Antarctica broke off from Australia several million years ago, and signs all along the southwestern coast of Australia remind you of that.

From there it was just a moment’s walk to a natural bridge.

Cade and I got adventurous and climbed down some rocks and ran across to stand on top of the natural bridge despite the signs warning us not to.  Actually, Cade got adventurous and I just went along so I would have a better excuse for bailing on whatever more adventurous thing we were sure to encounter in the subsequent days.  As my bad luck would have it, I was wearing flip-flops and scraped my toe.  That’s the last time I ever leave a sidewalk.

Then we asked some nice tourists to take a photo of the three of us because I was determined to get a shot of all 3 of us together every day of the trip (I only missed one day).

And then I got a photo of Karen trying to dance like a duck or something.

On the way back to the city, we stopped by the Albany Wind Farm to have an educational moment, learn about how wind turbines power Albany, and take a nice walk around the premises.

We checked out a local beach, arrived back in Albany, and decided to pop into one of the local pubs for a beer before we had dinner and pass out from exhaustion.  I was determined to try a local beer, so after perusing the taps at the bar, I spotted what appeared to be a local Western Australian beer that I had not seen before.  I thought I’d ask the barmaid what type of beer it was…

Me:  Excuse me, what type of beer is the Swan Draught?
Barmaid:  It’s a full-strength beer.
Me:  ::confused deer-in-headlights look::
Barmaid:  ::facial expression packed full of stupidity::

I’m not sure if she was referring to the alcohol content of the beer or the calorie content of the beer, but either way, that was not the answer I was expecting, and really, people should wear signs warning you that they have no idea about anything so that you won’t ask them anything and risk getting slapped in the face with stupid.  After clarifying that I wanted to know if it was a porter, a pilsner, a stout, or a pale ale, etc. her facial expression went from one full of stupidity to one of complete and utter confusion.

She had no idea what I was talking about.  That’s ok.  I got the beer anyway.

Luckily, it was good.  Swan Draught FTW!