Well much too late as most of my updates have been I have to report that Australia was not a suprise. It was fun, and beautiful, but not much different than the states in many ways. It was also expensive and cost more than the two months in New Zealand just for a month here. Luckily I had a lot of luck at the casinos in all the major cities. In all 12 visits I walked away up between 5 and 300 dollars. My favorite game was a version of Blackjack they call pontoon which is also known as Spanish Blackjack. It has a lot of favorable rules for the players which don't come up much and all the 10's removed which hurts all the time. The lack of tens is hard to appriciate as a disadvantage, but my brother Joe found a website with the rules and odds worked out and losing those 10's is actually quite a hit. - 4.7% compared with the advantages giving you .8%, so your total disadvantage is almost 5.4% overall. Luckily I didn't find this out until the last night. Because as Han Solo says - " Never tell me the Odds". The real question is why the lucky streak when Vegas so often beats me. My current theory is I finally started using the players one advantage of being able to leave the table at will, and walk away when up.
Anyway 1600 bucks of the casino's money helped defray costs. Yeah!
Flew into Melbourne and caught a lift to All Nations hostel on the corner of Spencer and Flinders which became by default my home on all future visits through. Doing a search of travel options at the airport I found a deal by REX for 499 A$ for a month of unlimited flights. Because REX is a regional airline it helped define where I would travel this month. The first couple of days before flying out to Tasmania I walked around the CBD and down along the river. Saw Matrix reloaded and was disappointed, watched the fire show outside the casino at midnight along the river. Found a place to store my extra bag and took a couple of trips to the Casino.
Flew down to Davenport and stayed at the cheapest backpackers in Australia, met Stephanie from Germany there. Played some chess, ping-pong, and pool; all of which I thrashed her in :) Aside from games at the hostel not a lot to do in Davenport which is where the huge ferries from Melbourne port. Next morning got picked up by Steve with adventure tours for a one week trip around Tasmania. First day went to see the first power station in Australia and took a walk around the hills and forest dodging rain showers. Then on to Wineglass bay and a hike up the ridge overlooking it. Next day took some more walks to see some of the largest trees in Tasmania, this species was once the largest in the world, but the loggers have cut down all of the biggest for paper so the california redwood now gets the status. At night saw a fairy penguin colony and watched the penguins come in from sea. Next day went to a wildlife park that cares for injuried critters. Saw tasmanian devils, wallabies, Koalas, kangaroos and many different birds. Went to Port Arthur that night for the ghost tour. Port Arthur used to be the old convict colony and strange happening started from the first. Even the church is layed out with the alter facing the opposite direction of all the others in the world and several murders took place during its construction with the bodies sometimes buried in the walls. Anyway, the ghost tour takes you through the old town and gives you stories of all the sightings that have happened. Did a more normal tour of the history of the town the next morning. Went on to Hobart that day and the group went out for dinner since half the group was leaving the next morning and another bunch were joining us.
So much for now, I will try and continue this soon...
Well I'm in Penang now, and still need to work on this so lets see...
On our free day in Hobart I rented a car and drove to the Huon valley through a driving rain. As tourist things go I did go to the Airwalk - a large steel walkway suspended up in the tree tops giving you a chance to walk around the jungle. Pretty neat, but my main reason was to go and check out one of the few wooden boat building schools left in the world. It is a 18 month program during which the class is building a 32ft sailboat along with smaller projects. The current class has just started so it would be August of 2004 before the next class. Something to keep in mind if other job opertunities don't present themselves.
After the new group joined us we continued up the western side of Tasmania, seeing Lake Clair, Craddle Mountain, some old mining towns and sand dune beaches. Beautiful wild country with only a few thousand people in the whole area. A lot like New Zealand. Back in Davenport it was another goodby dinner with my new friend Serene Boo from Singapore and a mouth stuffing marshmellow contest between Nicola and Steward. The next day I changed my flights to leave early and go to Adelaide so with three others from my trip we waited for a cab to the airport which finally arrived 10 minutes before our scheduled departure. But in the only in a small town category; the driver radioed the airport to hold the plane for us since we were running late.
Adelaide is a fair sized town originally layed out by the same guy that planned Christchurch, it is also a sister city to Austin Tx whatever that means. It has a downtown you can walk around in and is surrounded by a ring of parks. It also has a casino that obligingly kept my win streak alive. I just spent the night before flying up to Cooper Pedy to meet Stefanie again. Cooper Pedy is a opal mining town in the middle of no where in the outback. A flat desert with piles of rock from the mine shafts looking like ant hills from the sky. It is where Mad Max beyond Thunderdome was filmed as well as Pitch Black and many others. It only took us a few hours to walk around town, seeing the towns first tree (a metal sculpture), an old mine with seams of Opal still present for viewing, and a couple of lookout hills. Much of the town is built underground because of the lack of wood or other building materials back before the main north-south road was built to link Adelaide and Darwin. The hotel we stayed in had the backpackers dorms down in a long tunnel underground with little side rooms cut off the main shaft. Not enough light for good pictures unfortunately. All in all not much to keep the bordom away so we got tickets up to Alice Springs on the 5:30am bus next mornng. Although I must admit that "failed opal miner" would be an intesting resume item and you can still stake a claim and try to find opal with a pick like the old days.
Picture a long bus ride through west Texas for those fortunate enough to have been there and add a bunch of red to the landscape and that is the outback up to Alice Springs :) From Alice we rented a car and drove to Ayers Rock, a big chunk of granite (?) in the middle of nowhere. Nearby are the Olgas, a similar chunk that has weathered into a clump of big chunks of rock. Camped out for two nights where despite the reputation as a hot place it actually got quite cold at night and not very hot during the day. A constant agrevation came from the black flies everywhere which are supposed to be worse in the summer. If so, I don't advise any visits then. On the way back swung up to Kings Canyon for a night and a 3 hour walk around the rim. Very cool scenery also, but unlikely to be done justice by pictures or words. Then a 100km streach of red dirt road filled with ruts and sand drifts and only three other cars that we slid are way through to see some meteor craters from a impact about 10000 years ago. You can skip the craters if you are ever out this way. Back in Alice we took the Great Gahn railroad back to Adelaide where Stefanie met some friends while I flew to Kangaroo Island. Saw kangaroos of course and some more Kualas along with a seal colony and the remarkable rocks. Best part was the plane had to turn back on the way down due to a faulty stabilizer so I got put up in a nice hotel by the airline which also bought a steak diner. Back in Adelaide went on a wine tour with Stefanie to see some of the countryside around Adelaide and had a kangaroo steak for lunch. After another night of robbing casinos it was back to Melbourne and the great ocean road.
The great ocean road and the twelve apostiles are the big australian attraction after the great barrier reef and Ayers Rock. Yawn! Lets move on to Sydney where I flew in and wound up, after finding the first place I booked locked up tight for the night, in the worst hostel I've been in since Borneo. Stayed up late trying to unload some SIDT with no luck and then caught a early morning flight up to Byron Bay. A touristy little town with a nice beach and reputation as a hippy surfer hangout. Bought some fire poi and went to a free class on how to use them. Basically some chains with Kevlar ends you dip in a flammable liquid so they burn as you swing them around you trying not to light your hair or clothes on fire. A big hit with Sammy I am thinking :) Back in Sydney took a trip to the blue mountains and the three sisters. A group of rock formations and a thousand steps down into a canyon. Learned that back in 92 a hiker found a group of 30 trees which are the only known species of trees from the time of the dinosaurs. They are keeping the location a secret, but are raising seedlings to sell in 2007 to anyone that wants a piece of history. I must also comment that Sydney has a great botanical garden and is a very pretty city with the opera house and bridge against the sunset. Had diner up in the skytower restaurant, very similar to the one in Aukland. For Matrix fans I walked by the fountain where the girl in the red dress scene was, but alas no girl in red today. Also saw the building that Morpheous jumped from, aparently a lot of the movie was shot here. The Sydney casino had table limits set much higher than elsewhere in australia, with the cheapest being 25 dollars. Of course this worked against them as I was destined to always win so my take was quite good from Sydney :) Wrapping up this trip back in Melbourne I saw a great fire works show along the river as I made my way back to the hostel from my 12th casino win. I don't know why the show was put on, perhaps to celebrate my leaving!
Sunday June 15th I flew back to Singapore trying to hide the cough I picked up somewhere which was to bother me for weeks to come...