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The Real Fiji Experience.

Our Time in Fiji well spent.

semi-overcast 28 °C

Screw those backpacker itineraries, flashpacker resorts and cruiseboats… man, we saw the real Fiji or better Viti. (Viti = Fiji in Fijian.) What it really is like living in Fiji and it couldn’t have been a better experience.
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What I didn’t know was that there is some hardship to be had by about 70 percent of the population. You got to work hard out there to live your sustainable life on a tropical island. The luxury resorts on numerous tiny islands away from the main island (which is Viti Levu = literal translation = big Fiji) and the main cities (especially Suva, the capital) are all a tourist really gets to see. Happy Fijians greeting you and helping you out with anything you need. Lovely service, although a tad on the slow side. Fiji Time is a common saying here, I guess also known as island time. Time doesn’t really exist here. Things happen when they happen, so you better leave your western mentality and expectations behind. What you don’t get to see, unless you go out explicitly in search of it, is the real village life. How most of the Fijians still live these days. They don’t really need electricity and are fine with not owning a fridge (which in my opinion I couldn’t do without). Their main resources are limited in variety, but I guess they also don’t really mind. Life revolves around food, so farming and fishing is the main activity besides preparing and cooking. Seems quite simple, doesn’t it. Well it is, but there’s a beauty in it, that I as a western girl wish I could appreciate more. I noticed first hand, by my own experiences that I get quite restless while staying in villages for too long. They don’t really use downtime for personal need. There’s no such thing as reading a book for leisure and maybe if you’re lucky there will be one household that owns a TV. Computers and internet are a city thing and most villagers don’t know what Facebook is. Oh my lord, I can hear you saying… it is in reality a third world country. Well... yes and no. Most people would label it as such but I think Fijians really don’t mind the kind of life they lead. They are not in need of anything else. This is what it has been like for a while now and it works so what’s wrong with that. Everything you do or work for is in service of the local community. Everything is a communal possession. A great example of this is how any house is everybody’s house. People walk in and out, chatting, gossiping and sharing responsibilities such as caring for the little ones. Babies are adored, really I can’t put it in any other way then they are conceived as little gods and goddesses. Constantly being kissed and paraded around, an average baby in your average village is not alone for a moment. The complete opposite of how western babies grow up. They can’t be taught how to be independent fast enough! Fijian babies are cuddled and loved and passed around frequently. Everybody is everybody’s mother, father, big brother or big sister. Seriously, it blew my mind..
Although the city life is definitely different. I speak mainly of my village experiences on Vanua Levu, Viti Levu and Taveuni. Unfortunately that’s all we had time and funds for. Thanks to a friend of my dad back home in Belgium we were able to hook up with a local family and their extended family spread all over the country. We visited several villages thanks to them and on our own we managed to integrate in some more as well. It is a fascinating culture with old traditions still embedded in their everyday life to this day but missionaries have definitely succeeded in religiously conquering and transforming Fiji though. There’s about 6 different branches of Christianity present everywhere we went plus Islam in the bigger places and Hinduism as well. I don’t think you can find an untouched village anymore regrettably.
Even though the real Fijian food we had day in and day out, never disappointed us and is, if I may say so really yummy, there’s not much variation. As too be expected by being extremely isolated islands and it is a tropical climate after all. The main diet consists of Dalo (Taro), cassava and coconut. The coconut tree must be the most versatile around. They use every single part of it for cooking with, eating, body care products and building their houses and furniture, weaving hats, mats, baskets and fans with the palm leaves. There are a couple of green leaf vegetables, readily available and that made me happy but for the rest, unless it’s a village close to the sea and they get to fish every day, there is really not a lot to it. When you go visit people or a village, you bring them one of the following as gifts (Sevusevu) and they will be extremely grateful; canned fish or meat, cookies, sugar, bread, butter, soap and toilet paper. These are luxury items only available in shops and the cities. Wages are extremely low but I guess the cost of living is not that bad either, if you don’t buy beer and meat every day. The traditional Sevusevu would be or as they call it, Grog. Let’s have a little chat about Kava shall we? It is the original traditional drink for Fijians, pounded root of the peppershrub, mixed with water, it makes a muddy not so nice tasting drink. It’s their versions of drugs and alcohol (cause I haven’t really encountered anything else once off the beaten track). Granted you can find beer, wine, spirits and marijuana in the cities, but not as plentiful and besides Fiji Bitter or Gold (which is quite cheap) the rest is very expensive. Normal Fijians can’t afford alcohol so Kava it is. And trust me it is.. at all times and for any occasion possible the bowl comes out and the traditional half coconut shell used as a cup gets passed around. You better not be afraid of catching something when you go visit a village cause everything is made with the local water and food gets eaten with your hands and the kava bowl is shared. So once you get over the muddy numb-making taste of Kava, you might enjoy it and maybe after a couple of full cups you might feel a bit drunk, but it wears off extremely fast. So don’t get your hopes up. No, you haven’t found an cheap alternative to alcohol, forget about it. It makes you at best a bit woozy and very mellow. You will sleep great and the next day you might just want to do nothing and take another nap. On the other hand, I’ve heard Vanuatu has the strong and better stuff though. But I wouldn’t know myself as I haven’t tried it.
Fijians are basically the most hospitable people I’ve met so far (I think it can be said about almost any Pacific Island nation). There is nothing they would not give to you, because you as a foreigner are really honoring them with your interest and your visit. They will invite you in, just cause you are passing by, for tea, lunch or dinner depending on what’s going on at that time. They will make a spot at the head of the table for you (that is the head of the tablecloth on the floor, there is no such thing as a table in real Fijian households.) They’ll give you the best piece of meat and will give their beds to you if you are invited to stay the night. You’ll be proudly guided around and invited in and you’ll be shaking (lululu = official greeting/meeting) a million hands (because they all want to meet the –as it was in our case – white people). We’ve had young kids be afraid of us, starting to cry (cause they have never seen a white person before in their lives). We’ve had to smack away some little hands trying to peek into our bedroom, prying the curtains to one side in the evenings. Kids just being gob smacked when looking for the second time when they realize we don’t really belong in their village. Being stared at was definitely a common occurrence. We had the occasional better educated and worldly young ones flock to us and ask us a million questions in English about traveling and what it is like outside of Fiji. It was fun and new for the first few days but after a while there’s that guilt sneaking it’s way in and you start to feel a bit inappropriate for many different reasons. I’m sure those are feelings many of us would feel in those kind of situations and I’m not sure if I’m comfortable feeling them all the time because of the way we travel. From now on, we’ll be heading only to poorer countries and we will keep on hanging out with the locals, so I guess I better get used to it. Fijians are very respectful people. Unless you’ve been living with them for months and been seen as one of their own, you will not be allowed to do much. Offering to do the dishes or your own laundry are not going to be allowed. They will tend to you and try to make you as comfortable as possible. Adults won’t really ask about your life or pry into your business unless they really feel close to you which takes some time. Romantic gestures or kissing or holding hands are NOT done and it is very hard to tell how they actually go about dating and getting to know one another. I guess it all happens in secrecy. In one of the villages we visited on Vanua Levu we got the experience a real Fijian style wedding. Four days of full on organization and celebration. Pigs and cows were slaughtered and the best ingredients were used for making delicious food! We had squid in lolo (coconut milk) and lime, clams and grilled fish. Lots of meat and chicken curries, plus all the different kinds of fried bread for breakfast the day after the wedding. It was amazing!!! Not only the food but the teamwork of the village on display.
Let’s just say experiencing the real Fiji was a once in a lifetime thing and that I’m very satisfied with our choice of travel methods. I can go in search of the perfect beach and lazy around in Indonesia for a lot less money and that’s exactly what I’m planning on doing. I’m glad I went for an off the beaten track kind of experience in Fiji. Just cause it was SO worth it!
There will be more detailed entries of our adventures in Fiji coming soon.

Posted by flemishgirl 20:07 Archived in Fiji Tagged islands food boat beach religion bus locals ferries resorts blue island fiji paradise taveuni viti_levu mamanucas buses coconut pacific guitar backpackers vanua_levu tropics suva hitchhiking couchsurfing ukelele nandi yasawas cassava pacific_islands viti real_fiji_experience fijians tropical_climate dalo tarot casava indo-fijians missionaries flashbackpers

Hitchhiking in NZ

The easiest and cheapest way to get around... no doubt

all seasons in one day

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Many people would hesitate but eventually find an excuse to not stop when they see a hitchhiker alongside the road. The car is full.. Oh it’s too late now… or the most honest reasoning would be that they don’t really want to as it’s not easy to trust strangers. Some just ignore because they are plainly said not in the slightest bit interested in helping other people out. Well, all the above are very understandable. Except for the last one, those people need to re-evaluate their lives…
Connor and I have been hitchhiking quite a bit while we’ve been doing our around the world tour. We just stand somewhere safe, have a sign, plenty of room for the person to pull over, not too much of a speed limit, a friendly helpful population and voila!!! You got yourselves the most interesting way, sometimes most efficient as well, to travel around and connect with the country of your choice. I wouldn’t recommend it in all places, but I’ve personally done it in Hawaii, Australia (including Tasmania) and NZ and encountered nothing but friendly folks wanting a chat or wanting to help us out. But how about all those murders on the news involving hitchhikers? Well, think about it… usually it is the hitchhiker that is at risk, by getting into a car they don’t know, not the driver. Another thing to think about; tragedies involving hitchhikers will always reach the news because of its adventurous nature, it is news worthy. There are people disappearing, getting shot at, dying in accidents, getting raped or murdered every second of the day somewhere in the world, but those don’t always make it into the papers, do they??? I’d say you are perfectly safe hitchhiking if you are being smart about it. Just as you’re safe crossing the street using the crosswalk and the green light. Never had one dodgy person wanting to give us a ride. We are a couple though and Connor’s quite tall, but we look like legit decent travelers. We try not to look too scruffy or dirty and also to not smell too much. Which is pretty much impossible after coming out from tramping in the bush for multiple days, people must have thought we smelled pretty bad sometimes. I guess we could have bought a car and have spent half of our hard earned money on petrol getting around, but let’s be real. Our way of traveling would have put that car 75 percent of the time parked and forgotten somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Plus getting a ride with locals just gives you so much more valuable info and sometimes free food, alcohol and a place to stay even. What more could you want? Hitchhiking has proven extremely useful to us and sometimes was better than your average expensive taxi or shuttle service. As there are sometimes no busses at all to be spoken of in certain remote regions, it’s your only choice of transport anyways. I got used to it and still think it was the best way to travel around certain countries like New Zealand for example, where we were for the last 6.5 months.
Now we are in Fiji and the rules are different here. You can hitch with any vehicle but you are expected to pay the amount it would have cost for you to take the bus. As people are poor and busses are not many (in remote areas) and everybody who does have a vehicle is trying to make an extra buck or two. So the genuine hitchhiking is non-existent here, but that’s not throwing us off. We’re enjoying taking extremely bumpy and overly long bus rides. We’ll see how things will go when we get to our next destinations, but as soon as we have found a country where hitchhiking is done I’m jumping back on board!!

Posted by flemishgirl 18:07 Archived in New Zealand Tagged auckland cities roads car road new_zealand nz friendly south_island north_island abandoned hitchhiking easy helpful thumb thumbing_it

“Aotearoa – The land of the long white cloud : Unplugged”

AKA New Zealand, most definitely one of my favorite places in the world.

all seasons in one day 12 °C

Out of our 6.5 months in NZ, we spent about 4 over the summer on the South island enjoying the beautiful scenery and doing some tramping (= trekking + camping = hiking). The last 2.5 were spent discovering the North Island which is poles apart. It’s like comparing chocolate and cheese, a saying we’ve heard Kiwi’s use frequently. (Kiwi= New Zealander) We’ve experienced this country in every single way possible and walked (or rather flew) away very satisfied and with, what we feel is, a correct view on a very isolated and enormously beautiful, friendly place on this planet. A country that has a very green image, but we know now that is not completely true.. When you hitchhike and stay with the locals, conversations are very enlightening . We had a blast traveling around this country, making new friends, meeting up with old friends, NZ will always keep a special place in my heart.large_548289_376..38362_n.jpg

Hitchhiking, helpXing, couchsurfing and tramping… is all (you need) we needed to get a real insight into what New Zealand is all about. We’ve stayed and worked on farms, climbed some mountains and saddles, did the real touristy bit when my dad came over for three weeks, cruising around the country showing him all the good stuff. We know Maori names for plants, trees and birds…We can tell the difference between a Kauri and a Puriri tree. We know how to recognize the call of the Kiwi bird at night (if it’s a male or a female – not a Morepork , which is a small owl who makes a similar sound) and how to spot one. A 85-year old Maori woman named Jean taught me how to weave different kind of flowers with flax, a native plant with big strong leaves of which they use the fiber it produces off for just about anything. Unlike Australia, where the possum is cute, well loved and considered to be a protected species, it is an all-around pest in NZ. The debates heat up massively at times for what the best method is to get rid of them humanely. It suffices to say that we’ve been offered to shoot some at many different occasions (which Connor successfully did a few times) and have been shown how to set up traps. It surprises me sometimes, when I think back, how much NZ actually has taught us. No need to say, it has left a huge impression on me. I loved the country, it’s amazing wild nature and especially the extremely helpful and friendly people. Basically I wish I could go back already..
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It’s the perfect country for the keen hunter or fisherman. Many pests to get rid of including deer (you can shoot as many as you like basically). So many unspoiled waters for fishing. I, myself caught a 15 pound snapper just of off the coast in the Far North (top of the North island), which a lot of kiwi’s have complimented me for as they themselves had never caught one that big before.

Here’s a little itinerary so you’d have a good idea of what we’ve done and where we’ve been during our time in NZ.

December, we arrived in Auckland made good friends with the Davis family (located on the North shore) and scooted in hurry over to the South Island, because the summer had arrived and the tramping season had officially begun. We wanted to take advantage of the good weather and start taking in that elusive grandeur that the Southern alps and Fiordland are famous for. Made a little stopover in Nelson to get ourselves sorted (where we exactly were going to start our exploring). We then decided on Arthur’s Pass for Christmas and New Year as there is always snow to be found on the mountain tops there and we hadn’t seen snow in ages! (It still feels weird being in the Southern hemisphere when it actually is summer when I’m used to seeing snow and ice for Christmas). So we worked in the Bealey Hotel for a couple of weeks, helping in the kitchen, working behind the bar, changing sheets. Not the most glamorous job in the universe but it had some fun folks to hang out with day in and day out (wink to our Argentinian friends, who are living it up for the snow season in Queenstown right now). Being in the middle of nowhere surrounded by mountains, waterfalls, immense wild braided river flowing right underneath your window, most beautiful sunrises and sunsets, admitted it was pretty awesome.. I’m trying not to forget to mention the local wildlife which pretty much only consisted of sandflies and Kea’s due to the altitude. Sandflies must be NZ best well kept secret. You don’t really hear about them until you actually encounter them. They are tiny little black flies that bite kind of like a mosquito. The bites are nasty and itchy though. Fortunately once you know about them and get used to them, you’d be able to outsmart them by covering up and spraying wrists and ankles especially (as they like those the best). Kea’s are the NZ’s ONLY alpine parrots. They are pretty looking and extremely inquisitive. They tried to fly off with one of my hiking boots one day at one of the campsites. They’re quite big and have very colorful wings (mainly green and a bit of red). We encountered them while tramping quite often. Terrorizing the neighborhood in packs, you have to watch out for leaving food out and they have been known to break into tents and cars… You’re asking me how? Very sharp beak and very smart, that’s how…

January, we said goodbye to Arthur’s pass and went more south. Through the Canterbury plains, through the Southern Lakes region, Lake Tekapo, Twizel, Mount Cook and Lake Pukaki. Some glaciers and hitchhiking rides later we made it to Wanaka and really started to get a feel for the South Island. Queenstown was next and we stayed in this area for about a month. Working on a farm just outside of Glenorchy 45 minutes north from Queenstown at the top of the lake there is an substantial amount of South Island beauty to be found. Anyone ever going to Queenstown should rent a car for the day and explore more north. Much better than only a visit to the super famous action capital of the country. Seriously, don’t stop at Queenstown, get your ass up there. Until this day this is still one of my favorite places in NZ. Riding horses (who almost guaranteed were in the Lord of The Rings movies, as they were all filmed in this area), tramping the different valleys and mountains are still part of my most memorable accomplished activities. This region borders Fiordland and Mount Aspiring National Park which are world famous for their great walks. We did some 5 day tramps and they are indeed Great… It’s a magical place. large_552088_376..77999_n.jpg

February, we met up with friends and went to Abel Tasman national park for my 30th birthday. Did some sightseeing and camping at Golden bay and tramping.. Success! After a very fun week hanging out with our American friends from home, we needed to get down to the more Southern part of the South Island as summer was threatening to disappear on us soon. Made our way down the east coast, saw some penguins and seals and weird looking boulders on a random beach. Crossed through more dairy farm country and landed in Invercargill for a while. Worked at a very hilarious hostel, waiting out the rain. Got to Te Anau and realized how immensely beautiful and wild this country is.. again. Did some tramping around Lake Manapouri and got on a very successful Doubtful Sound day cruise. Oh my…. That was an incredible experience. Dolphins came by and said hi… waterfalls were plenty..there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, so the water was quite calm and we were able to get out into the Tasman Sea in our little boat to have a look back onto Fiordland…. One Word: Breathtaking.

March, we finished our time down south and made our way back up to Christchurch (6.5 months in NZ and I did not feel ONE earthquake, which is very rare, as going to CHCH basically guarantees you one…. It was earthquake central for the last 5 months and will be for another while they say.) We spent a marvelous time on the Banks Peninsula, learning how to look for Paua (abalone) and huge green lip mussels for dinner. Learned a bit more about Maori culture and took my dad later back there to go camping on the beach in one of the spectacular looking bays. Flew out to Auckland to go get my dad from the airport, jumped in a little cheap campervan and started a 5000km adventure on both the North and South Island showing him, what we thought was, the best NZ had to offer… in about 3 weeks. It felt like a success afterwards… but in comparison to the way we normally travel, it was way too fast and not enough time. The glowworm caves in Waitomo stick out in my memory though and Rotorua’s smell! Should have spent more time in Kaikoura as the dolphins and seals and tramping opportunities were plentiful! Our Milford Sound trip turned out to be the most divers one we could have ever hoped for. We had rain, snow and hundreds of thousands of waterfalls in every shape and form to admire during the first half of the day driving from Te Anau towards Milford Sound. That road is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in my life. Once we got on the boat, the sun decided to come through so we had a good view of the very famous and picturesque Mitre Peak before encountering more dolphins, seals and an amazing amount of rainbows. What good karma us three must have, cause good god.. for a minute there before we got on the boat the outlook didn’t look very positive.
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April, we dropped Dad off in Auckland and put him safely back on a plane to Belgium and had a good rest at our favorite family’s place. Stayed on the North island from now on. A fishing trip to Coromandel got us some yummy fish dishes for a while.. the amount of fish we caught fed us for a week! Northland was next on the list and we really lived the good life up there… Digging up Kumara (sweet potatoes), went fishing some more and looking for seafood almost every day. Had a good night out with some local Maori boys in Hokianga (who picked us up hitchhiking and in return we picked up little bit of the local dialect – chur brew!). Went looking to catch a ride on a boat to one of the pacific islands in Whangarei and in the Bay of Islands, but decided we weren’t done yet with NZ.
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May, Hawkes Bay and Napier is indeed all it’s cracked up to be. Drove a quad on the beach at low tide to go see Cape Kidnappers from up close. It was starting to get real cold now. Not cold like European standards for winter but frosts started occurring overnight and frequent Southerlies (wind) made it chilly. It was no longer comfortable camping, so we were getting excited about leaving on a jet plane to Fiji! Finished off some tramping in the centre of the North island in the shadows of the mystical three volcanoes who by now had very snowy tops, which made for exceptional picture taking. Got a good view of Mount Taranaki and enjoyed a steep tramp halfway up the mountain. Too much rain and cold weather made us go up north again.large_532857_420..33668_n.jpg

June, ending our NZ adventure with one of the best helpX experiences we’ve had so far. Between Thames and Paeroa, in the Maratoto Valley (bordering Coromandel peninsula) we planted heaps of little native trees and had spiritual bushwalks hugging some Kauri trees. Learning how to correctly do Light Clay wall stuffing and talk to fantails. My wisdom tooth started to act up and it was decided that it had to be surgically removed (I’m writing this 10 days after this has been done and it still hurts! My jawbone was drilled into… trust me when I say mind-blowingly painful). Then after saying bye to the Davis’s and getting a new tattoo, we finally jumped on a plane to Fiji.

It’s warm and coconutty here…. And I miss kiwiland.. (fail) Smiles!

Posted by flemishgirl 17:40 Archived in New Zealand Tagged snow queenstown fishing boat snowboarding wildlife hiking locals fiji sun new_zealand dolphins camping milford_sound maori lotr south_island north_island seals hunting hunter doubtful_sound hitchhiking glenorchy lord_of_the_rings tramping couchsurfing helpx far_north

The Great Ocean Road.

South-west Victoria, Australia. Hitchhiking, camping and hiking.

It must certainly ring a bell when you hear someone mention "The Great Ocean Road". If it doesn't.. What if I mention the Twelve Apostles? Does that sound familiar? Well, as we’ve experienced last week, pretty much the whole world knows about it and it is THE major tourist attraction in Victoria, Australia. Tour buses of every size cramped full with little Asians passing us by every minute, while we are standing on the side, of what for the most part is a one lane windy 243 kilometers (150 miles) long coastal road, with our thumbs up in the air. It stretches from the cities, Torquay and all the way west up to Warrnambool. The road was built by returned soldiers and is the world's largest war memorial, dedicated to casualties of World War I. Honestly, nobody really talks about this important historical detail. What the GOR is famous for is the limestone rock formations, which are slowly crumbling into the ocean. There aren't really twelve apostles, it’s more like 8. In recent years, a couple of these important landmarks collapsed, one actually with tourists still one them. The London Bridge incident anecdote was told to us by a friendly local giving us a ride. Now called the London Arch, cause there’s no longer a connection with the mainland, that’s the part that gave way in 1990. No one was injured, but it left two tourists stranded until a helicopter came to rescue them.

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Originally we would have liked to walk the Great Ocean Walk. A 104 km walk starting in Apollo’s Bay almost all the way up to the Twelve Apostles. Instead we chose for a combination of hiking and hitchhiking. It turned out to be a very eventful 3 days, filled with amazing sights along the way and unexpected experiences. The first day was spent trying to get out of Melbourne as quickly as possible. We used public transport to get to Torquay, the start of the Great Ocean Road. Bell’s beach, a world famous surf beach was the first thing to check out. The weather was perfect for surfing and we did get to see locals have a try at some nice tricks. Our first ride was with a surf dude, with his over-friendly pup in the back of his 20 year old van, just making his way back home from Bell’s Beach. I thought that suited the start of our trip. There are a couple of free camp sites along the way but they were mostly located of the road for quite some kilometers. Finding camp spots wasn’t an issue. Rides on the other hand proved to be a bit more difficult. Lots of tour buses and tourists in rentals. We basically relied on locals to give us rides and they did, only our waiting times were a bit longer than what we were used to.

One goal I had set out for myself was to spot some koalas in the wild. There are heaps of them to be found around the Kenneth and Wye river area and the Otway National park. So we got a ride into Wye river with a local delivery guy and he told us to go to the back of the camp grounds and look up in the trees. And there they were. My first koalas! They’re usually found hanging around or dozing off in the bigger eucalyptus trees.

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We had to do at least a part of the Great Ocean Walk and decided to tackle the last bit towards to Twelve Apostles. We started at the beginning of Port Campbell National park, where all the good stuff is to be found. The sky finally cleared up and it was the perfect day for a much needed photo shoot of the most important part of the GOR.

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After about 7 kilometres of walking along the magnificent cliffs (with all of our stuff on our backs going up and down the whole time may I add) overlooking the Great Southern Ocean, the Twelve Apostles came in sight. Unfortunately the Great Ocean Walk doesn’t go all the way up to them, so we had to hike a bit along the highway. The first big sightseeing stop of significance was the Gibson Steps. They take you down to the beach, so you can really admire the height of those cliffs and some Apostles in the distance. If the tide is out enough you can walk along to the rest of them, keeping in mind you have to get back in time, there’s no way back up on the other side of the ridge. (I actually think there were signs and it wasn’t really allowed, but we saw folks doing it.) Hitchhiking from one point of interest to another (as they are quite close to one another) wasn’t that hard. It has to be said though the place was over-run by tourists so we didn’t get rides that fast.

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Finally we made it to The Twelve Apostles! They are pretty impressive to see from close by and it was all definitely worth it. Even though we still think it has nothing on the Washington coast though. We should start calling it the Ten Thousand Apostles and rename the 101, The Great Wild Ocean Road.

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The next amazing place was The Loch Ard Gorge. The gorge is named after the ship "The Loch Ard", which shipwrecked at this location. There still is a cemetery you can go visit there. An extensive walk all around the place is highly recommended. Some incredible formations make for some very interesting views.

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The Great Ocean Road and all of it’s wonders ends officially in Warrnambool. There is still much more along the way to see only we didn’t have a vehicle at our disposal, so we had to be content with what was accessible to us and take the rides that were offered to us.
In conclusion, everybody knows what The Twelve Apostles are and would recognize them in photographs. Well having seen them with my own eyes (and we worked hard to get there by hiking the last part of the Great Ocean walk), I can honestly state that the whole area is damn spectacular and they are truly one of a kind. Another great little adventure completed successfully.

Signed,

A Flemish Girl Down under.

Posted by flemishgirl 01:25 Archived in Australia Tagged twelve_apostles melbourne victoria great_ocean_road hiking surf locals wild surfing geelong loch_ard_gorge camping backpacking backpackers surfer hitchhiking torquay koala's kenneth_river wye_river great_ocean_walk warnambool bell's_beach

Tasmania Unscripted.

Hitchhiking around Tassie. Using alternative, sustainable methods of traveling. Hiking, camping, hitching, couchsurfing and Helpxing around the beautiful Isle of Tasmania. When they say Tassie’s got it all, they really mean it when they say All…

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Until about 15 years ago, before an opportunist real estate agent made a documentary about Tasmania, this particular state of Australia was almost forgotten. When talked about, it was more commonly known as a joke. Nowadays mainlanders and your odd foreigner are buying up land like their life is depending on it. Granted, it is a good investment. It makes prices skyrocket and it’s no longer affordable for the average person with a serious interest in the country lifestyle. Cause that’s what Tassie is all about. It’s still a place where small villages rule and the local communities are going strong. Front doors do not need to be closed and neighbors help each other out without being asked. This could all be gone in the nearby future.

Anyways, the diversity of this island called for some serious exploration, so that’s exactly what we did. After our initial two weeks in Hobart (See previous blog entry Life in Hobart, Tasmania), we started our hitchhiking adventure around the island. We didn’t really have a plan, but we did pinpoint a couple of destinations along the way. The first was the Freycinet National Park and Wineglass Bay. Which turned out to be a magnificent little adventure. (See previous blog entry called Camping at Wineglass Bay.)
Next we were heading more north up along the east coast towards the Bay of Fires. Critically acclaimed by Lonely Planet (I’d never heard of it.), thus worth checking out in my book. Hitching to St. Helens was interesting. We almost got stuck in the middle of nowhere until a car stopped way ahead of us with screeching tires, putting himself in reverse and speeding backwards coming to a halt right in front of us. This is going to be interesting we though to ourselves. Turns out they were a lovely couple, providing us with a ride all the way up where we needed to be. After some much needed fish and chips in town, we got to know a kiwi couple living out their campervan. They took us up to the Bay of Fires and we camped in a pretty fantastic spot right next to the beach together. It’s exactly what we expected it to be. Endless perfect white sand beaches, red rocks and clear blue water all the way for miles and miles.

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Sometimes these HelpX hosts fall through and you are put in, what we thought at the time, a rather luxurious position. Extra free time to go scout the island. We reconnected with another host, who took us in last minute for a couple of days. Just because he could and wanted some extra company around. Andre has this little paradise tucked away in the middle of nowhere and we would have wanted to stick around for a lot longer, but as you can guess, there was still plenty to see in a limited amount of time, so we had to say our goodbyes way too early. Tassie seems to be a lot of firsts for me. Catching my first fish and shooting my first riffle! Target practice was awesome and a good skill to have in case the world goes apocalyptic on us and I’d have to survive by killing some scary zombies.

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Next was Launceston (aka Launie by locals)! Nothing much to do or see there. Another big city, I mean oversized village, but this time on the northern part of the island.

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Some lovely couchsurfing and a visit to the gorge later and we were on our way to Deloraine. This was where we were going to base our visit to Cradle Mountain out of. We thought we were pretty lucky to have found these awesome hosts. They were tremendously accommodating and we owe much to Graeme and Geraldine. Without their help we wouldn’t have been able to experience how beautiful this region actually was. Not to mention their house! Perfect example of using recycled and readily available materials.

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Cradle Mountain was gorgeous, we saw our first wombats (alive and not as road kill, very important detail). An initial 20 minutes of blue skies was the start of our 3 day planned hike. Then trouble began to rise to the surface or rather come down on us. Icy winds, snow storms and pathways turning into rivers wasn’t exactly what we were prepared for. We do have some warm clothes in our backpacks but no mountaineering gear though. So after drying out all of our stuff in one of the shelters, we decided to cut the hike short and make our way down to the sunny valley of Sheffield, a town famous for its murals.

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We followed the Tasmanian trail (Devonport to Hobart, north to south, straight across) for a bit and camped out in a forest nearby town. And what a fabulous alternative that was. The pine trees very much reminded us of home. The distinctive Eucalyptus trees are basically the only vegetation we’ve been seeing here so far in Australia.

Hitchhiking is definitely more easy in Tassie because of the small island mentality. We thought it was never going to be as easy as Hawaii again (Where hitchhiking is a very common way and very much accepted to get around the island. See previous blog entry The Big Island of Hawai'i), but Tasmania has proven to be the most helpful and trusting place. We stuck our thumps up once again and crossed the state in less than four hours making it all the way down to Woodbridge, to our last HelpX place. Another hidden little piece of paradise with a gorgeous view of the D’Entrecasteaux Channel and Bruny Island.

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Dagmar, our host made us feel at home instantly and I know, I didn’t really feel like leaving at all. We meet many folks the way we are traveling and a lot of them we won’t remember, but once in a while there’s someone you will want to keep in contact with and maybe one day visit again. Dagmar is definitely one of those. We’ll miss her and her crazy nonetheless extremely lovable pups. Because we are traveling, there’s no time to get a dog ourselves any time soon. So it expresses itself into a lot of love for all these puppies we meet along the way. Bonnie especially, she kept us busy taking us along for her extensive swims. She could be a little neurotic but such a beautiful Stafford terrier. She definitely did a good job at keeping us entertained. You had to watch out though or she would have taken off by herself and swam all the way to Bruny Island.

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One other animal we encountered for the first time in Tasmania was the black Tiger snake. They seemed quite scary to me and I didn't realize Tasmania is much populated with all kinds of Tiger snakes. They are extremely venomous, but locals succeeded at making me less nervous with stories of their encounters and bites that they knew of. When they hear or see a human, they will make their way out of there, as they are not big fans. Only when you step on one they’ll bite and the chances of the venom actually making it into the wound are small. So when I actually saw a few over the next couple of days in the backyard and surrounding areas, I remained calm and couldn’t be bothered less. (That last part is a lie.. I still freak out of course. What do you want? I'm from Belgium. Last time I checked no venomous creatures to be found there.) Though I will admit I banged a couple of pots together to chase the first one I saw away…

Our last night in Tassie was spent camping on the waterfront in Devonport, waiting to leave on the ferry the next morning back to the mainland. A beautiful sunset was our goodbye gift.

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So in conclusion, Tasmania is ranked high on my favorite places in the world list. It still has it all. Cozy little villages, beautiful beaches, mountains, an abundance of lakes and part of it, the west is still wild and uninhabited. But most of all, I liked the friendly islanders.

Dear Tasmania,

Please don’t ever change.

Sincerely,
Flemish Girl.

Posted by flemishgirl 23:53 Archived in Australia Tagged sunset hiking mountain tasmania gear camping hobart snake ferry recycle hitchhiking devonport helpexchange helpx tassie deloraine cradle_mountain hitching woodbridge tiger_snake stafford terrier bonnie recycled_materials

A very rainy hitchhiking adventure from Sydney to Melbourne.

Princes Highway A1 - approximately one thousand kilometers. Goal is to reach Melbourne in 6 days with some decent sightseeing along the way.

rain 15 °C

As a rule, Australia is split up in 2 main regions, north and south. The north has a tropical climate. Season are pretty much non-existing. You have “The Dry” followed by “The Wet”. If you’ve seen the news recently you would know Queensland, northeast Australia has suffered tremendously from “The Wet”. Floods are not unusual there and ‘La Nina’ is causing a extremely wet season. Even New South Wales and Victoria, states with a more temperate climate, are getting doused. Our planned hitchhiking adventure would have been a lot more exciting and not cut so short if it wasn’t for the never ending rain fall.

We did manage to hitchhike and see somewhat of the beautiful southeast coast. The plan was to randomly make our way south from Sydney depending on the rides we got along the coastal Highway #1, also known as the Princes Highway and look for spots to poach camping. First we had to get past Sydney. We got on the train in Medlow Bath in the Blue Mountains where we had been HelpXing for the last three weeks.

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Bye to Aurelie, our fellow master cob renderer slash helpXer and the most recognized view of the Blue Mountains. One we actually never got to see because of the low hanging clouds that last day. So we settled for capturing a postcard. Hey, you have to be creative once in a while, right?

This particular train station and town is tiny, so the machine issuing tickets had a limited number of destinations. We quickly realized we were going to get away with only paying 3 dollars each for an open end – pay at your destination ticket. Basically we traveled an equivalent of almost 250 kilometers for that price. So we were off on a kick-ass start!

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Jervis bay is supposed to be one of those elusively beautiful areas and I’m sure it is, but our experience of it was immensely grey and wet. Either way we did have a dry night camping out on the beach of Currarong though and the chips from the local fish and chips shop weren’t half bad either.

All these magnificent places were not really worth stopping for in the pouring rain, but I’ll tell you which ones we thought are not to be missed if blue skies are present.
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Jervis bay (1st picture), Batesman bay, Narooma, Eden, Mallacoota (2nd picture), Lakes entrance (Pelicans) and last but not least definitely go camping in Wilson Promontory National park, an enormous coastal wilderness area with lovely lakes, beaches, wildlife and hikes! You do not want to miss out on that one..
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So because of the wet conditions we had to settle for 3 days of speedy hitchhiking and exploring, instead of a week of sunny activities. Hitchhiking while it’s pouring, is good for one thing though. We met Andrew. He picked us up right when we were ready to throw in the towel. While chatting away during the drive, we mentioned our passion for eco-building and especially building with cob. Once he realized our interests were similar to his, he invited us to spend the night at his place with his family. He couldn’t just let us camp in the rain now, could he? Their house, located on top of a hill overlooking the beautiful valley village of Candelo and filled with all different kinds of cockatoos, was made out of compressed earth bricks and cob. We talked the whole evening exchanging ideas and building experiences.

Another unique moment during our rainy adventure was hitching a ride with a local truckie. He was moving milk from point A to B and back daily. It gets lonely sometimes, he said. So we gladly hitched about 3 hours with this hilariously authentic fella, who couldn’t stop cracking slightly racist jokes.
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All in all, this was a very successful trip. We got were we wanted to be with plenty of time to spare. Too bad about the beautiful places we had to miss. Like they say, tomorrow’s going to be a brighter day, with the emphasis on brighter..

Flemish Girl.

Posted by flemishgirl 23:19 Archived in Australia Tagged melbourne rain pelicans milk blue_mountains eden lakes_entrance hitchhiking mallacoota sydey princes_highway truckie jervis_bay nowra

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