Tuesday, January 31, 2012

National Parks

My friend Jenny’s mom once told me that she’d like to visit all of the national parks in the United States.  A big task that would be as the United States has 58 national parks scattered far from Maine to Hawaii, Alaska to Florida, and even American Samoa and the US Virgin Islands.  That’s a lot of driving and flying – or swimming or walking for the insane.

If you’re up for a slightly bigger challenge, you can try visiting all of Australia’s national parks.  And by “slightly bigger challenge”, I really mean “hahahaha you’ll never do it!”

Australia has a whopping 582 national parks.  582!  That covers roughly 4% of Australia’s area.  When you add on the other roughly 1,750 protected areas in Australia, it turns out to be around 10% of the continent.  Not bad.

Now, to be fair, the US has massive state park systems – over 6,600 strong – along with a handful of national forests and such.  That more than makes up for the lower number of national parks.  But still.  582 is damn whopping.

Living in the US for 27 years of my life, I ended up visiting… five national parks.  Just five.  That’s sad.  Looking back, my first was Shenandoah NP in Virginia on a road trip with my friend Jenny summer after freshman year of college.  I was 19.  The next two were Mt Rainier NP and Olympic NP – both done while I was living in Seattle.  And the last two – Grand Canyon NP and Petrified Forest NP – were done on my cross-country drive from Seattle back to Florida.  I crammed in those two right before I moved to Australia.  I’ve been to 30-something states, but apparently I’ve been slacking on the national parks.

I’ve made up for it a bit in Australia.  In Western Australia, I hit up Torndirrup NP, William Bay NP, and Gloucester NP with Cade and Karen.  I popped into Naracoorte Caves NP in South Australia along with Port Campbell NP and Great Otway NP in Victoria while on my big Adelaide to Melbourne road trip with Liz last year.  Kei and I saw Watarrka NP and Uluru-Kata Tjuta NP when we went to the Northern Territory last July.  And I’ve made the rounds in the Sydney vicinity:  Blue Mountains NP, Royal NP, Seven Mile Beach NP, Kamay Botany Bay NP, Ku-ring-gai Chase NP, and Sydney Harbour NP.

While on our South Coast road trip earlier this month, Oscar and I checked another one off my list:  Booderee National Park.

Booderee NP takes up nearly all 26 square miles of the Jervis Bay Territory (pronounced Jarvis Bay by Australians in the same way that derby is pronounced darby and clerkship is pronounced clarkship… wtf?).  The Jervis Bay Territory is a small piece of land at the bottom of Jervis Bay on NSW’s South Coast, but it is not part of New South Wales.  It was ceded by NSW to the Commonwealth (federal) government back in 1915 so that Canberra (Australia’s inland capital) would have access to the sea.  Jervis Bay was sort of a part of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) until 1989 when the ACT achieved home rule.  Jervis Bay was then transferred back to the Commonwealth government.  Today, in addition to the national park, the area consists of a military base and a small Aboriginal village.

Ok, enough of the history lesson.  Booderee NP was stunning.  Our first stop was Green Patch beach:

Look at that sand!  It is said to be the whitest sand in Australia.

The water in Jervis Bay was incredibly clear.  No major seaweed issues, no big waves, no pesky birds, and no fish swimming around my feet.  The water was frigid, but everything else lined up so I went in for a long dip anyway.  It took me a while to thaw out.

On the other side of the park, the view out to Wreck Bay was fantastic.  The water was slightly warmer (but still frigid) and the waves were bigger.

The middle of the park featured botanical gardens and a short hike around Lake McKenzie.

We were told by the visitor centre to check out the lighthouse at the far east end of the park, looking over the Tasman Sea.

The lighthouse was actually lighthouse ruins.  The sign said they built the lighthouse in the wrong place and it actually caused a bunch of shipwrecks.


Finally, back to the Jervis Bay side of the park to take a late afternoon nap at Murrays Beach.  While the lighthouse lacked in excitement, watching the park ranger who got his truck stuck in the sand as the tide came in totally made up for it.  Evil, I know.  But so entertaining.

So, if you kept count, Booderee brings my grand total to 15 national parks visited in Australia.  Only 567 more to go!


Sunday, January 29, 2012

Small Town Australia & Noodle Deceit

Small town Australia… is a place I could never live.

Seriously.  I’d be bored out of my mind.

Weekday evenings in the cities are a bit disappointing – with shops closing right as you get out of work (except for Thursdays when the malls are open late).  But restaurants are open as are plenty of other activities.  Small cities are pretty bad.  In Wollongong – Australia’s 9th largest city – one Sunday afternoon in 2010, a mate and I quickly realized that our only late lunch (3pm) option was fast food.  Restaurants closed between the lunch and dinner shifts.  But in small towns, the restaurants shutter their doors after lunch and they don’t reopen for dinner.  I’ve had encounters with small town Australia before, but the trip to the South Coast really brought to life just how boring small towns really are.  The small towns along the Great Ocean Road in Victoria didn’t bother me.  They are touristy, and things were open in the evening because of the large number of visitors.  But South Coast NSW is a far different area.  While it is a popular weekend getaway for Sydneysiders, the region doesn’t have the international recognition that the Great Ocean Road has, or even recognition by people from other parts of Australia.  Going during the week, when all of Sydney is at work, proved a bit challenging when it came to finding dinner.

First stop:  Berry!  A cute little town consisting of one main road, it had all of the essentials that make small towns great – mainly sweets.  Because a road trip isn’t a road trip unless you stop in a small town and get some fudge, right?

Berry is also famous for their doughnuts.  Hell yeah!

Lunchtime in Berry was nice – we walked up and down the road until we found a cafĂ© that suited our appetites.  For a small town, it seemed like we had endless options, so we decided to venture back in for dinner as our hotel wasn’t really near any other towns.  We parked and proceeded to walk up and down the street.  The bustling little tourist town that we had encountered only hours ago had become…

A ghost town.

Only three things in the entire town were open:  one little grocery store and the two pubs (because you can’t deprive an Aussie of beer).  So, pub grub it was.  We picked the cheaper of the two options – they had a Tuesday schnitzel special – and placed our order.  Good thing we ordered when we did.  When our little buzzer went off and it was time to pick up our food from the kitchen, the register already had a sign up that the kitchen was now closed.

Had we been ten minutes later, we surely would have starved!

Ok, we wouldn’t have starved, but we would have had to eat granola bars from the local grocery store, and that in no way, shape, or form is a proper dinner.

The next night we drove through a town called Nowra.  It is a relatively big town with an urban area population of 32,000 – much larger than Berry.  Not bad for a place that most people have never heard of.  We picked Nowra on purpose as we knew there would be nothing in Berry, and we assumed that all of the other small towns would be shut as well.  With 32,000 people, surely there must be a few dining options.  So, we drove into the town centre, parked, and walked around.  From what we could tell, we had four options.  Only four.  Just four.  And two of them weren’t even really options.

1.  Subway
2.  Pizza Hut
3.  A Chinese restaurant
4.  Another Chinese restaurant literally next door to the first one

When in Rome… we opted for one of the local Chinese restaurants.  The sign said that it was founded in the early 1950’s by the first Chinese immigrant to the region.  Having been around for so long, we assumed it must be somewhat good.  All of the employees inside were white though.  That was a bit strange.

Oscar and I both ordered chow mein.  What we got was:  a bunch of steamed stuff in a bland, gooey sauce tossed over some of those thin little crunchy noodles that they put in Chinese chicken salads in the US.  Seriously?  They weren’t long, hot, tasty noodles.  They were those little crunchy bits you can buy in a bag in the supermarket.  Ugh!

I took a closer look at the menu.  With the history of the restaurant, there was also a little note about the hosts.  The hosts’ last name:  Ng.  Ng.  Would you like to buy a vowel?

Ng is not a Chinese last name.  It’s Vietnamese.  People from Vietnam own the Chinese restaurant.

I’m angry.  And hungry.

Are small towns in America this bad?  I honestly can’t really remember the last time I’ve been to a small town in the evening in the US.  I tend to stay away as they usually have too many rednecks and religious nutbags.

Though, I should probably give a point to Australia.  I suppose I’ll take shitty imposter Chinese “noodles” over religious crazies any day of the week.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

South Coast NSW

Oscar was back and we hit the road for a three day road trip!  New South Wales – the state that Sydney is in – has a massive stretch of coastline.  Despite the sizable distance, the coastal stretch south of Sydney extending all the way to the border with the state of Victoria is called the South Coast.  As that is a roughly seven hour drive, the region is by no means small.  We set out to see the area, though given our time constraints we only made it about three hours down to a place called Jervis Bay.  That area was absolutely marvelous and is deserving of its own post to follow.  But first, I present some other highlights of South Coast NSW!

We started Day 1 at the Illawarra Fly Tree Top Walk!  Australia is home to four of these tree top walks, and Illawarra Fly is the third one I’ve checked off the list.  I still reckon that the first one I did in Western Australia was the best, but this one definitely had the best view:

The lake is Lake Illawarra and just beyond that is the city of Wollongong – Australia’s ninth largest city.

The Illawarra Fly is built on the Illawarra Escarpment – the remnants of an old mountain range.  Because it’s built on the side of a mountain, it was really easy to get high up.  When they say tree top, they mean it.

It was here that Oscar and I took the first of many “self-portraits” over the course of our trip.

Now, at this point, I’ve seen kangaroos in the wild.  I’ve seen emus in the wild.  I’ve even seen koalas in the wild down along the Great Ocean Road.  And from the looks of it, I thought I might be lucky to catch a glimpse of a wombat!

Unfortunately, we didn’t see any, even though we waited by the designated wombat crossing.

Next stop:  more views at Saddleback Mountain.  The steep drive up – which almost put our rental Corolla to an early grave – was well worth it:

Later on, we checked into our hotel:  the historic Coolangatta Estate!

Built by convicts in the 1800’s, the site has been restored and now operates as a resort and winery.  Their 2003 Semillon was delicious and we bought half of a case.  We bunked in “The Cottage”.

Nearby was the famous Seven Mile Beach.  Stretching from the town of Gerroa in the north to the mouth of the Shoalhaven River in the south, the beach – as its name suggest – is one of the longest in New South Wales.  Indeed it was long – and more importantly – it was empty.  There was nobody to the left!

And nobody to the right!

And nobody right behind me!

The beach was ours!  All seven miles of it!

On Day 3 we drove back to Sydney along the Grand Pacific Drive.  Now, we didn’t actually know it was the Grand Pacific Drive until near the very end when we bumped into this sign as a lookout point and realized that it was the exact drive – from end to end – that we just did.

The Grand Pacific Drive is NSW’s answer to the Great Ocean Road down in Victoria – except it’s not nearly as well-known… or as fabulous.  Which is probably why I had never heard of it.  That being said, there were some pretty spectacular things along the way.  In addition to Seven Mile Beach National Park, we passed through the town of Kiama with its pretty lighthouse.

More famous, however, is the Kiama Blowhole!

Ok, so it doesn’t look like much… until water comes out of it:

I need to remember to not hold the camera vertically when taking videos.  Sorry.

The geology behind it is quite interesting… if you’re a nerd!

Lucky for me, I’m a complete nerd.  Do you have a problem with that?

The drive also takes you through Wollongong:

And we pulled over so that Oscar could play on the historic waterfront canons.


Oh lord.  Trip’s over!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Dolly Kathy Jesus Leo Oscar

I know, I know.  I haven’t blogged in like over two weeks.  My bad.  What can I say?  I’ve been busy.  I have a life.  But I’ll make it up to my one adoring fan with a blog now and a few more before month’s end.  Is that ok, Brian?  Now you can stop reminding me on Facebook and on Words with Friends every chance you get.

Actually, I lied.  I have two adoring fans.  The other is my mother.

Anyway, moving on.  One contributing factor to my extreme busyness has been the constant stream of visitors that have come to Sydney over the past two months.  So, from the beginning:


Dolly Parton came to Australia!  DOLLY.  FUCKING.  PARTON.  Do you have any idea how exciting that was???  I had been dying to see her for ages but I was out of town the only time she came through Seattle.  So, when it was announced that Dolly was coming down under for the first time in nearly 30 years, I was determined to see her no matter what the cost.  $220/ticket later, my friend Kei and I got to witness the best concert I’ve ever seen.  Dolly sang a few new songs, but she really pleased the crowd with all of the famous favourites:  Baby I’m Burnin’, Jolene, Why’d You Come In Here Lookin’ Like That, and Islands In The Stream.

And of course, the ultimate Dolly classics:  9 to 5 and I Will Always Love You!

She got a little bluegrassy, threw in a little gospel, and even rapped for the crowd.  I’m not even shitting you!

And, as she is the ultimate entertainer, Dolly added a story to every song.  And sometimes she even added stories just for fun.  Like the story about how she lost a Dolly Parton look-alike contest to a drag queen.  Here she is:

I only regret that I didn’t bring my proper camera with me!  The iPhone is great, but the photos and videos just couldn’t handle all the lights on stage.


Kathy Griffin also came to Oz recently and performed at the iconic Sydney Opera House!  Her performance was filled with all of the trash talking, celebrity gossip, and pussy jokes that we have come to expect and love from Kathy Griffin.  Of course, the gays were out in full force.  Just like Margaret Cho did a few months ago, Ms. Griffin did an excellent job of tailoring her stand-up to the Australian audience and even commented on our lovely Prime Minister (sarcastic) whose views on marriage equality are a bit… ridiculous.  Kudos to Kathy!


2011 marked my second Christmas in Sydney.  Not that I celebrate Xmas or anything, but I’ll always take an excuse to entertain.  As Elcid & David hosted me last year for a full day from brunch to late night, I decided to return the favour this year.  So, from 11am until after midnight, the boys partied at my place.  We had Challah French toast (because we had to Jew it up some) and mimosas:

… followed by The Muppets Christmas Carol and the inaugural swim in my apartment’s pool.  Others joined us in the evening for a dinner that could choke a horse, followed by Xmas cookie decorating!

Oh yes - I made the Xmas cookies from scratch!  And did you notice the gooey brownies on the table?  Also from scratch!  And I even made a fabulous chocolate cheesecake… from scratch!

Look at me go!  Diabetes here we come!  Also, because it was Xmas, we lit the menorah.  Wait – what?  Happy Chrismukkah!


My mate Leo from Seattle (actually, he’s from India originally, and he lives in New York now, but I know him from both of our days in Seattle) was in town for a week!  His work placed him on a project in Melbourne for two months.  Having the time between Xmas and New Years off, he decided to hop up to Sydney for a little visit.  We ate.  We drank.  And we watched the fireworks on the harbour from my apartment’s roof!  The view was great!  Unfortunately, we didn’t get a single photo of us together.  Ugh.  But I did manage to get a photo of our desserts one day at lunch.  What the hell is wrong with me?

We also hit the beach twice (first Manly, then Coogee the next day) as it was the first really good beach weekend we’ve had this summer (December was rainy and cool – WTF?)


And since two beach days with Leo just wasn’t enough, I had several beach days with Oscar.  That’s right:  Oscar was back in Australia!  You may recall from blogs ages ago that Oscar was one of my first housemates here in Sydney.  He had just finished an English language class and was looking for work when I arrived.  Unfortunately, he didn’t find anything before his visa expired and he had to go back to Catalonia, but my mate was determined.  So, some twenty months later, Oscar’s application for permanent residency was approved and he lined up a job over in Perth.  He swung by Sydney for a week before heading west and the two of us took a little road trip down the South Coast to a place called Jervis Bay.

I’ll leave it at that, because the next few blog posts will talk all about our road trip south, including tidbits on small town Australia and this country’s abundant National Parks.  Until then, sit tight, Brian.  Another blog is coming soon!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Howdy Partner

For a while, I thought most of the women in my office were lesbians.  Seriously.  Nearly all of them.  I thought “Wow, there are so many lipstick lesbians here!  Who knew?!?!?” And you know why I thought this?  Because they all say “partner”.

One thing I’ve noticed time and time again in Australia is how people tend to describe their spouse, husband, wife, fiancĂ©, boyfriend, girlfriend, significant other, or whatever you want to call them simply as their partner.  In the United States, the term partner is generally used for gays and lesbians.  But in Australia, or at least in Sydney and the other major cities, it’s everybody – gay, lesbian, straight, and whoever else.  I found it strange that an unmarried heterosexual woman would describe her boyfriend as her partner, and even stranger when a married heterosexual man would describe his wife as his partner.  But here, it is totally common.

The classic example of this is Australia’s Prime Minister, Julia Gillard.  Ms. Gillard is unmarried but is in a long-term relationship with a man who she refers to as her partner.  And she calls him her partner on TV and nobody seems to think anything of it.

I don’t know exactly why this is, but I think I have somewhat of a good idea.  First, I think there’s definitely more awareness around gay and lesbian issues in Australia – especially around marriage equality.  So if everyone can’t have a spouse, some more progressive (straight) people may choose the word partner instead of husband or wife to avoid any faux pas.  Maybe.  But that still doesn’t explain Ms. Gillard as she is not married.

The more likely reason, from my observation:  marriage culture in Australia is strikingly different than in the US and evolving into a more gender-neutral and less defined institution.  The laws in Australia are such that you don’t need a legal marriage to have all of the same rights as married couples.  It’s called “de facto” here, and as long as you live together in a long-term relationship for a certain length of time – whether straight or gay – you are treated the same as a married couple under the law.  Perusing through the Australian Bureau of Statistics website, I found that the marriage rate in Australia has dropped significantly over the past 20 years while the rate of adults living in de facto relationships has more than doubled amongst both straights and gays.  As a comparison to the current rhetoric in the US surrounding same-sex marriage, take a look at this introductory paragraph on the ABS’s website:

“Couple relationships provide people with love, companionship, support, and opportunities for having children and raising families. As such, couples are a fundamental building block of society. Changing social attitudes during the late 20th century have led to an increase in de facto and same-sex relationships as well as giving people more freedom to end relationships, start new relationships or remain single.”

Nowhere in that paragraph are the terms “married” or “marriage” mentioned.  This is in stark contrast to the rhetoric used by the very vocal republican, right-wing Christian social conservatives in the US who spew out vile in relation to same-sex marriage.  They claim marriage should remain the realm of heterosexuals because both a mother and father are needed to properly raise a child and that gay and lesbian couples don’t constitute real families.

What a load of rubbish.  The Aussies are definitely in the better situation here.

So, what does this all mean?  It means that “partner” appears to be on a path to becoming the primary way Aussies describe the person they make a commitment to – whether straight, gay, married, or not.  You may be an unmarried woman living in a long-term relationship with a man.  You’re not married, so he’s not technically your husband, but “boyfriend” seems way too light a term to describe somebody who you’ve lived with for a decade.  “Partner” fills that void. 

I like it.

But I will say this: with everything good, there’s always a downside, and this could have tragic consequences for me when trying to figure out who’s on my team and who’s not.  My gaydar hasn’t always proven the greatest to begin with.  Ugh.