Thursday, September 26, 2002

Now that I've been in Sydney for a little while I'm sure you're all chompin at the bit (working conditions these days, it's terrible) to hear what I've been up to. My news is interspersed with Sydney observations. Oh here's the first one now:

Sydney observation 1: There are masses of Thai restaurants. Each one of them Thais to out do the other with a thai-ribble pun in the name - "Thai-tanic" and "Thai-riffic" are my favourite ones so far. (this is why I¡¯ve got the odd subject for this message).

We started off our stay in the Sydney YHA which is very pleasant. We had a funny orientation evening where you could bid for discounted tours etc. You bought a discounted ticket for a Neighbours night where you can meet the cast. The YHA has a DVD lounge and I saw Lord of the Rings yet again. I was a little disappointed that I couldn't recognise many places that we'd been too (who could imagine that the battle field in the opening scene is the same nursery slopes of the skifield that we were on a few weeks ago) , but it certainly has the feel of New Zealand scenery.

Our main priority was finding somewhere to live and sorting out mobile phones, getting a tax number, bank account, getting some clothes for work etc. It all went pretty smoothly. We were pretty lucky with our flat. After looking at a couple of places we saw in the newspaper, we weren't overly impressed with, we stopped at a letting agent that we happened to be passing and found that they had a lovely fully furnished flat right in the centre - just what we were looking for. It's just a few minutes walk from the centre of town and has everything that we need. The only annoyance is that it's so BRIGHT in the mornings. It's light at about 4 or so in the morning. These ozzies really need to sort their time system out.

Sydney observation 2 : There's a very touristy monorail that goes around one part of the center of the city. It seems to serve little useful purpose (as its stops are within easy walking distance) other than to look cool. It's a bit like stepping into the future, as imagined by somone at the Worlds Fair many decades ago. Every time I pass it I try to restrain myself from singing the Simpsons monorail song. (lyrics) (wav file)

We've been doing a wee bit of sight seeing too. One of our first stops was the Circular Quay area - down by the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. It was odd the first time I saw the view - it really felt l was in a film or some kind of Travel programme. Just nearby is the large & beautiful botanical gardens which offer superb views of the harbour. The first time we went thru the gardens we were freaked out by these flying foxes (a type of bat) which were literally dripping from the trees. In one area, there are simply hundreds hanging upside down from the tall trees - if you dont look closely you could miss them though, or think that they were some sort of fruit.

Sydney observation 3: The people aren't quite as friendly here as in NZ. I was given a NZ 20 cents piece in a supermarket here, and when I pointed out it was the wrong currency the cashier said "It doesn't matter", and tried to fob me off saying that NZ currency is basically the same thing as Australian. I was NOT being given great customer service and told her to give me a coin in the right currency. Jo thought I was weird - its only worth about 8p - but its the principle of the thing.

We visited the historical Rocks area of the city on the weekend, when there is a lovely market. It¡¯s where the oldest part of the city is & where all those convict boats used to arrive. We passed tens of couples (and their white limos) posing by the harbourside for their wedding photos with the Opera house in the background. It was hilarious.

Sydney observation 4: There's a large population of Asian people here (and a big Chinatown area). One of my favourite sights is walking along the main street and passing the video arcade - there's bound to be a crazy teen dancing away on this arcade game where you have to dance on this mat in the correct sequence. They be loonies.

We met up with Andy Mundy who is over here on holiday on a break from his job at Reuters and took in the views from the Granite pylons on Sydney harbour coathanger shaped bridge http// . Its such a world famous landmark that it's hard to believe its only 70 years old. We bumped into Andy again in Paddy's Market when he was getting his portrait drawn. I embarrassed him by taking a photo of the work in progress. Unusually for streetside portrait artists, the picture was actually pretty good.

Sydney observation 5: The music on the radio here ain't too hot - mostly bland rock. Any tapes or minidisks of Westwood (top to at ten, Fridays, Radio1) would be most welcome.

We visited Bondi beach - I wasn't too impressed with what is one of the most famous beaches in the world. But I guess it only comes alive in the summer? We had a walk down the coast to Coogee.

Sydney observation 6: Aaah! I can't escape that fat tongued idiot Jamie Oliver! He was advertising Pams ( a bit like Hienz) in NZ , and he was just on telly advertising wine here.

The main thing we've been up to at the moment is looking for work. It's only been a week, but it's pretty stressful. We've got a couple of interviews with agencies lined up, so I'm pretty optimistic.

Wednesday, September 18, 2002


"Crikey!" As a certain Crock loving Australian might say. Joanne and I have come to a firm & complete stop in Sydney. We've only been here a couple of days and have been pretty busy. Our biggest success has been in finding a lovely flat in the centre of Sydney. I was dead chuffed because I thought we'd get a grotty old flat or shared house out in the sticks - but we've got a fantasic flat right in the centre.

"So how did you end up in Sydney?" I hear you asking, "the last time you wrote you were leaving Aukland for the Northland of New Zealand!"

Thanks for being so observant. We travelled up along the Northland's Twin Coastal route. The West is famous for the fabulous Kauri trees - absolutely ancient trees which grow to an amazing size and we visited the Kauri museum and Ancient Kauri Kingdom which has this amzing kauri tree inside the shop, and a giant internal staircase has been carved out of it. After visiting the ancient forests in Trounson KAuri Park & Waipoua forest we stopped at Opononi. The town is famous as the home of Opo the dolphin - a friendly dolphin who used to swim by the shore and play with the children (Unfortunately he died a few years ago).

We continued on to the far north of NZ to the lighthouse at Cape Reinga. We stopped at 90 mile beach - a long stretch of sand that can be driven along and used as a road. Jo drove on the sand a little bit - mostly threatening to run me over. That night we stayed at Manonui in Doubtless Bay where we met one of the freakiest people that I have ever encountered - think Will at his weirdest & multibly it by a number of your choice). "Nice guy" Johnny gave us a 3 hour monologue on his life story - his harsh upbringing in Prague, his clearly insane parents, his time in the Israeli army (when he pretended to be insane to leave it early - i don't think he needed to pretend too hard), his womanising, horrific bike accident, thoughts on God, and recent motor troubles. He was stuck in the middle of no-where because his car broke down - and going mad while the local mechanic kept on finding new problems.

We escaped Johnny and contined back down along the East coast of the Northland. We stopped breifly at Kawa Kawa, which is famous for it's ornate toilets designed by Frederick Hundertwasser. Not an especially nice town - it's odd that anyone (apart from George Michel maybe) could envisage a town where the toilets are the highlight. The Bay of Islands area was next, and we stayed in "Romantic" Russell (as it promotes itself), a pituresque little town. We played scrabble again, whith me turning the game around with "avenges" scoring 36 , very apt i thought.

We arrived back into Aukland & the sunny weather made the city seem much more appealing than on our previous visit a few days earlier. We visited Kelly Tarton's Antartic Encounter Underwater World which was very cool. They have a wonderful Antartic temperature Penguin area, as well as a aquarium that is viewed from underneath , along a moving walkway. We took in various other sights including Mount Eden, an extinct volcano which offers magnificent views, with a crater 50 metres deep that you can walk down to, and Victoria Market (NZ's version of Camden I guess).

We checked out the views from the Skytower and met up with Davey (Will's friend from Cornwall) & his girlfriend Frankie. We chilled out in Devonport area & saw Xena the Warrior Princess' ship in the harbour (they film most of it in NZ).

And that was New Zealand. An absolutely lovely place, but with little city life. My highlights were definitely Dolphin Swimming in Kaikoura, and the beautiful Milford Sound. We arrived in Sydney and busied about trying to do all the things we needed to do (and not saying yes to the first flat we looked at, thank goodness). The plan now is to stay here for about 6 months before seeing some more of Australia and Asia & coming back home for September '03.

Thursday, September 05, 2002

Greetings from wherever I am,

As much as I hate to have missed Darius's single being
released in the UK, I've been continuing to enjoying
myself out here in New Zealand.

Listening to the radio has been quite funny at times.
The profanity laws must be different here or
something, because they've been fing and blinding on
the like sailors. Sweary sailors. We were listening to
Ski FM in the central plataux region - and the station
is on EVERYWHERE, playing a wide variety of music,
terrible adverts - one features a hideous Forest Gump
Impression "mumma always said snow is like a box of
chocolates, it melts in the sun". The main reason
people listen is for the Ski report - to find out
what's open. The main reason we turn of the radio is
because of Pink - her latest singles "Making Me Ill"
aand "Don't let me get me" are played absolutely
everywhere. I don't dislike the songs, but the blanket
airwave coverage has made me sick, Jo even more so.

We haven't been watching too much TV, and so I've been
catching up on some reading. Band of Brothers, The
Full Montezuma by Peter Moore, Walk in the Woods by
Bill Bryson , The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier &
Klay by Michael Chambon. Peter Moore was one of Jo's
picks and was a very fun read.

When last I wrote, I was in Taupo, visiting places
that smell different (to put it politely). It made me
sing this klittle song (to the tune of Abba's
Fernando"): "There was something in the air that
night, it smelt like shite, in Taupo".

We relaxed in the hot springs there, which was fairly
unexventful except for one kid thinking i looked like
Jack Osbourne
Which I don't entireley agree with.

After a particularly competitive game of Scrabble in
which Jo refused to belive that "dank" was a word
( so there),
our next stop was National Park. National Park is
right next to Whakapapa (pronounced fak-a-papa without
giggling if possible) where there is a pleasant ski
field on the top of mount Rupehu, an active volcanoe
(which last errupted in 1996) .

The main reason we visited there was to meet up with
Tom Scruby, an exeter uni friend, who is working at a
cafe on the ski field. He seems to be having a cool
time there, and we had a pleasant time one evening
when the local bar organised a shnapps belly button

National Park public transport isn't great, so most
days we would hitchhike to the top of the mountain
(the first time since New Years 2001/2) - but that
turned out well and we met some nice people. We almost
hitched a lift in a stretched white limo with the
license plate "GWBUSH", but we didn't so that doesn't
make a very good anecdote, sorry. On the first day we
tried Snowboarding, but a combination of horrible
weather, a rubbish instructor, and painful boots was a
little off putting. On the second day we spent 10
minutes on the ski field before the entire mountain
was closed due to blizzard conditions. We had to wait
3 hours for our coach - the one that was supposed to
take us was blown off the road on the way up. The next
2 days the weather improves and we got a good days
skiing in. Joanne had never been before, and after a
few initial tumbles, she seemed to pick it up very
natrually. After this encouraging progress we tried
another slope higher up and Jo was left rather out of
her depth. My bad. I think my dad did something very
similar the first time my mum went skiing.

Our next stop was Rotorua - the
geothermal tourism capital of NZ, in fact its tourist
slant has earned it the nickname "Rotovegas". It's
moto is "Feel the spirit", but could have been "wiff
the egg", as the air has quite a strong nasty smell of
sulphur. We paid another visit to a hot spa, , which has alceline and
acidic pools, strong in all kinds of revitalising

That evening, we did the must do activity in Rotorua,
a Maori hangi (feast) . It was
pretty commercial, but had to be done really. The
highlight for me was Jo exposing our Bus driver as
being a bit of a charlatan. She wanted him to explain
the difference between the words Waka and whaka - and
he was forced to admit that he couldn't actually sweak
Maori... despite taking the piss out of us as he tried
to teach us a few basic words a little earlier.

On Saturday we visited the NZ maori Arts and crafts
insitute at Tev Whakarewarewa ,
but it was pretty touristy and we weren't overly
impressed. We far mor enjoyed the Agrodome . This place is the home of Zorbing
- rolling down the hill in a large plasic ball. I was
tempted to do it but decided against it. Very cool was
their sheep show - with lots of breeds, dogs doing
tricks, and sheering. Jo got to feed a baby lamb &
loved it the wee softie. We took photos of the sheep
Orking (check out to
see what i mean - a very funny website)

Our final day in Rotorua was hired a car and went on a
big geothermal tour. We started off at Wai-O-Tapu , home of the famous Lady Knox
gyser. It goes off at 10.15 every day - with a little
help from some soap powder which is poured into the
gyser. Next up was the Waimangu volcanic valley where we took a boat cruise around
lake rotomahana and saw the still active mount
Tarawera. It was very beautiful, but weirdly the
area's main attraction (its spectacular pink and white
terraces) were destroyed over a hundred years ago. The
area's life was completely destroyed, and everything
is starting from scratch - it is bbilled as a look at
how life first began. Last on the day's itinerary was
Hells Gate , boiling
mudpools (that you can bathe in too). I think we'd
burnt out on seeing all these geothermal sights (and
smells) though and were left fairly underwhelmed.
Joanne commented on some people over a sulperous
cavern "II don't know why they're hanging around all
this stinking sulphur - just for the hell of it".

Leaving a trail of sulphur behind us we drove to
Aukland, stopping at Waitomo, to have a look at the
glowworm caves . We has an
enthusiastic guide called Zane ("'cos I'm in-zane"),
who only had 2 fingers on one hand. The cave & glow
worm were well worth it and it was quite magical
floating in the darkness, illuminated only by the glow
from these tiny creatures.

When we got to Aukland it was quite a weird sensation.
We've been away from large cities for what seems such
a long time that the experience was a little

Anyways, I'm here now, but will leave tommorrow wo go
have a look around the very north before returning
back & leaving for Sydney.

Hope all is well with whatever you're up to.

Take it easy, Mark

Postscript - Gabrielle replied as follows:

Sounds like a fantastic time! Just time now for pedantic picky comment
from Aunty Gabs: for a graduate AND a player of Scrabble, your
spelling's APPALLING! I cannot put these gems down to typing errors....

(yours first, then correct)

sheep sheering -> shearing
tommorrow -> tomorrow (okay could be a typo rather than ignorance)
alceline -> alkaline

By the way, you don't look like Jack Osborne, feel relieved (I should