It’s that time of year, again?!

It is with utter indignation that I acknowledge the passing of another year.

When I look back at the last 12 months, I can genuinely say that I am staggered at what a single, and fairly insignificant human being, has done and seen. I’m about to list it all out in a chronological type post so you can see and be astounded along with me.

  • Rang in 2013 in Hong Kong
  • Welcomed the Year of the Snake in Taiwan
  • Did some serious sight seeing in Japan
  • Spent a surprise, and divine, 2 weeks in the UK
  • Experienced the madness of Bangkok in Thailand
  • Felt the sorrow and unwavering optimism of Cambodia
  • Was baffled by the anger:acceptance ratio in Vietnam
  • Relaxed properly between terrifying mountain road bus trips in Laos
  • Learned how to cook, SCUBA dive and feed elephants (not all at the same time) in Thailand
  • Toured the tea and food spots of Malaysia
  • Felt all shiny again in Singapore
  • Fell into lust with Australia
  • Found beauty, nerd fests and family in New Zealand
  • Moved to Melbourne
  • Missed THE wedding because of the strongest typhon ever recorded
  • Made amazing friends
  • Welcomed some of my mad family to Australia for the holiday of a lifetime
  • Said hello to 2014 from a different hemisphere

That list is absolutely redonkulous and it’s very heavily abridged.

I will leave 2013 behind me forever knowing that it is probably the most privileged and special year I will ever be lucky enough to live.

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More time, please?

Where on earth is time going? Is it rocketing along for everyone else too or am I stuck in an accelerated time field or something? I honestly don’t know where the two months since landing back in Australia have gone!

I think I’ve done a fair bit of ‘life’ related activities but nothing really blog worthy. I baked.

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I biked.

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I bought from the British shop.

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I’ve found job(s) and am working hard to replenish my dwindling funds. I’m getting to know house mates and work mates. I’m getting thinner. I’ve had my eyebrows and eyelashes tinted. I’ve had my hair cut. I’m getting lots of stuff done but it’s not interesting stuff.

The next interesting thing I do will happen in early November and I’ll definitely be reporting in after that. Until then, sorry about the radio silence but, I’m just being a bit dull.

Melbourne Madness!

Before leaving Wellington I had booked myself into a hostel for 3 nights. To my delight, they offered a complimentary shuttle ride from the airport when you booked 3 nights or more with them. This meant that I had no worries about getting into Melbourne city, I just had to look for the correct shuttle bus. I found it and was transported directly to Home @ St Kilda.

Home is an ok hostel with decent facilities. They don’t provide any frills and charge you handsomely for any you might want. There’s no free Internet access at all but it’s not a bad walk to the library where there is free Internet. The dorms were a middling standard of clean. The shower screen was broken and the bunks squeaked hideously. There are no lockers in the rooms. The staff are very friendly. All in all, an acceptable stay but I wouldn’t go back. The hostel is in St Kilda but a 10 minute walk from anyaction.

I was insanely busy in my first few days in Melbourne so I didn’t get to explore St Kilda at all! Here’s what I did.

After checking into the hostel, I went to find a supermarket for some food. That mission was successful so I then got my mobile sorted. I still had my previous sim card but needed to add credit for an amazing deal from Amaysim. For $39.95 AUD a month you get a contract free package which gives you 4GB of mobile data, unlimited texts to Australian mobiles and unlimited calls to Australian land/mobile phones. It’s a fantastic deal. Once I’d got that done, I started looking for jobs.

My main job hunting resources were http://www.gumtree.com.au and http://www.seek.com.au. I found seek to have a higher quality of job than Gumtree but, with careful filtering, there’s still a decent selection on Gumtree. I found this gem for a start.

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I spent a good few hours applying for jobs before I had to attend my diet appointment.

Regular readers will know that I have been losing weight for the last 10 years or so but more dramatically in the past 3 or 4 years. I’ve used the Cambridge Weight Plan in the UK and Hong Kong. It has never failed me so I was delighted that it exists in Australia too.

I have a dear friend’s wedding approaching in November. It’s a beach wedding on Boracay, in the Philippines, and I want to be my thinnest ever for the event (and associated photos). Cue the trusty Cambridge Weight Plan.

It’s a meal replacement style diet managed by a consultant whom you see every week for your products and your weigh ins/measurements. You can’t buy the products anywhere other than a consultant and they’re all trained. It’s a really supportive system that works fabulously. I went to meet my consultant and pick up my products. My consultant is based in Brighton which you can find a couple of KM south of St. Kilda. She’s a lovely lady called Mandy Smith, a fellow Brit! Brilliant!

After that, I’d made an appointment to see a room in a house after seeing it advertised on couchsurfing.org in the Melbourne section. I didn’t want to stay in a hostel any longer than I had to. I trotted off from Brighton to Ormond. Ormond is a lovely suburb about 4km east of Brighton. I liked the room and the housemates, they liked me and offered me the room. Hoorah!

During all this being busy, I’d received an email inviting me to interview for a job the next day. I kid you not when I say I’m an efficient person when I need to be.

Went to the job interview (for door to door sales with The Smart Group) the next day and was offered the job. I started the job training the day after that.

Busy doesn’t really cover it does it?

The adventure continues next time.

Return to Oz (tralia)

I loved Melbourne and now I’m living and working here. My initial impression of Melbourne has only been reinforced and flourished into an extreme fondness during my 6 weeks or so here.

I work in a café making sandwiches with the most lovely bunch of people. I live in Ormond with amazing people. I’m incredibly happy.

My blog for the next few months will be about my adventures in Melbourne as I plan to be here a while. If you’re in Melbourne Central, pop into Klik for a coffee and say hello!

New Zealand – Wowed in Wellington

I arrived in Wellington after an overnight trip with Naked Bus. It cost me $25NZD to get from Auckland to Wellington. I genuinely can’t fault Naked bus service or value.

I am fortunate enough to have family in Wellington so was greeted warmly at the bus stop and whisked away in a car. I did circumnavigate Wellington using public transport and found buses, trains and the cable car reliable and regular. The snapper card system is in use on busses but paying the driver is a very viable option too.

Wellington’s architecture is an interesting mix of awful and beautiful. There seems to be no happy medium. One of the buildings I thought was stunning is the old parliamentary building seen here.

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The new parliament building is hideous and resembles an air filter you might find in a bagless vacuum cleaner. You can see the very edge of it creeping into the left of the photo above but I’m not posting a picture of it because it offends me.

There’s plenty to see in Wellington. The streets are littered with sculptures, art works and intriguing buildings. Something to do which I cannot recommend highly enough is Zealandia.

Zealandia is an area of the City which has been fenced off for preservation. This means all introduced predators have been removed in order to reintroduce native species. It’s a really beautiful area and worth the entrance fee as you have the opportunity to see New Zealand nature as it was before settlers.

The animals range from feathered and noisy to scaled and silent. One of the scaled and silent types is the Tuatara.

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The Takahē is a flightless bird which was critically endangered a few years ago. Zealandia had a successful breeding pair who are contributing to the repopulation effort.

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Another native at Zealandia is the Tui. It has a distinctive white feather tuft on its chest and has an interesting song.

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Most New Zealand birds are muted as far as colouration goes. Take the Kaka, a native parrot. It’s colours are nothing like the vivid birds of Australia. The kaka has much more subtle brown and red tones.

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Zealandia really is a wonder to walk around and so close to the city that you simply have to go. There’s even a free shuttle bus that departs from the cable car terminal. No excuses.

New Zealand is famous for being the location for Lord of the Rings and Wellington is the home of Peter Jackson’s film studios. This means that much of the filming was in and around Wellington. I took the ultimate, full day tour with Wellington Movie Tours (www.movietours.co.nz). It took me to Helms Deep, the gardens of Isengard, Hobbiton woods, the production studios, Rivendell and the WETA cave workshop.

At Rivendell, you can compare heights with this handy post. I’m Gandalf amounts of tall.

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The whole day tour includes a sandwich lunch, collection from/return to city accommodation and all aspects of your tour. The tours use a mixture of movie clips and pictures on location so you really get a feel for what you’re looking at. There was also instances of posing and dressing up. It really was amazing fun and I’d recommend Wellington Movie Tours to anyone.

An extra I paid for was the ‘window into workshop’ tour at the WETA cave but before I gush about that, this is what greets you outside of the WETA cave.

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Anyway, the window into workshop tour is basically a treasure trove of WETA work. It’s not just Lord of the Rings in there; it’s District 9, The Chronicles of Narnia, Halo and a wealth of other interesting creatures and props. We were guided around by a bonafide painter who works there. He explained the processes involved in designing and producing props. It was incredible. If you’re a movie geek with an interest in special effects and props, pay the extra $20 and do the tour. You will be delighted.

During the day we also found a real New Zealand silver fern. Green on the top side, silver on the bottom.

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The day finished with us watching the sun set behind the south island. Beautiful.

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I visited the national museum of Te Papa too. It’s free to get into and had some interesting exhibits. I found the most informative to be the earthquake section. I really didn’t know much about fault lines, earthquakes or after shocks before visiting Te Papa and now I do. There’s an earthquake experience which gives you an idea of what an aftershock feels like. It really is very well done. The museum as a whole is very good and you should visit if you can.

One day, I took a train up the cost and explored an area called Paraparaumu. The train journey itself is scenic and enjoyable. Once in Paraparaumu, I walked the cost from Raumati beach to Paraparaumu beach. On the walk, you get great views of Kapati island. Very pretty!

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It’s a very lovely area of coast and well worth a trip on a good day. The beaches are clean and the cafés plentiful so you can relax with beauty surrounding you.

My time in Wellington flew by. Before I knew it, I was heading back to Auckland for my flight to Australia. I was utterly spoiled and taken care of in Wellington and it left me raring for more Aussie adventures.

Australia – Immigration Issues

Having decided I loved Melbourne, and that it wouldn’t do if I didn’t live there for a bit, I began wanting to apply for my Australian working holiday visa. This visa is offered to British passport holders under the age of 30 as a way to travel around Australia without breaking the bank. The process can be completed entirely online with the only major catch being that you cannot apply whilst in Australia. As a result, quite a bit of my time in Auckland was dedicated to visa logistics.

Normally visa approval is incredibly fast owing to the online automated system used by Australian immigration. You fill in the form at http://www.immi.gov.au, pay the several hundred pounds fee (£227 for mine I think) and within a day have your visa authorised. Unfortunately, mine was not this hassle free.

I had no idea that Hong Kong was a high risk area for tuberculosis and, as I’d lived there for 8 months, I required a chest x-ray to go along with my application. The Australian immigration folks only have two approved centres in Auckland which are able complete this as part of the online system. Luckily one of the centres was in the CBD and therefore not too far away.

You can go to any centre you like but if they’re not on the immigration approved list, you have to courier the films to Tazmania in order for the officers at immigration to assess them. I didn’t fancy that so I registered for the online service and popped on down to the authorised centre in Auckland CBD.

The x-ray process itself was very simple. I handed in my form, passport, paid approximately $70 NZD and got x-ray’d. The results were registered online there and then by the radiologist and I left thinking “Fantastic! It’ll l probably be cleared tomorrow.” because the website had told me it takes 24 hours for online medical results to be processed.

The next day I was disappointed to see that my application status still listed me as requiring a chest x-ray. I wondered if someone hasn’t pushed the required button yet and decided not to panic.

After the weekend, I receivd an email notifying me I was required to get a chest x-ray to support my application. “Uh oh” was my initial reaction. I thought I’d probably confused the computers because I got the chest x-ray before receiving the relevant email (I’d taken my prompt from the application status checker on the immigration site). Bugger. Time to speak to a human.

After a decent amount of time spent on hold (about 25 minutes. It’s a good job Skype credit calls are so blooming cheap) I got through to a very lovely lady and explained the situation. She assured me it did not matter that I had completed the chest x-ray as they are valid for a year after you lodge your application. Phew. The kicker was that she advised it can take up to 2 weeks for medical information to be loaded into immigration systems. The 24 hour assessment period only applies once the info has been received. This wasn’t great news.

I’d planned to go back to Australia within a week of getting to New Zealand and to just see Auckland in that time. Instead, I was confronted with the prospect of 2 weeks and not much cash to play with.

I spent the rest of that day deciding how I would spend my time. I settled on a week in Auckland, diving at Tutukaka and then visiting relatives for a week in Wellington. I made all the necessary coach bookings and settled back resigned to the fact that I may as well enjoy myself and spend lots of non existent money.

I spent the rest of the day booking and paying for things to see and do in each place. At about 7pm New Zealand time I received an email from the Australian Immigration service. It advised my via had been granted. I was delighted and then I swore.

New Zealand – Perfect Poor Knights and Watery Whangarei

Whilst in New Zealand, I deemed it would be quite rude not to go to one of Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s top 10 dive sites in the world. I left Auckland with Naked bus and traveled to Whangarei because that’s as close to the dive site as you can get on cheap buses. Naked Bus was not only cheap but it was also on time and efficient. No messing.

Once in Whangarei, I checked into the YHA after ascending a steep hill and waiting for their reception to open. The hostel was OK but nothing special (the bathroom was bloody freezing in the morning which I did not appreciate). I think it’s been sold now anyway so you probably can’t stay any more which is a shame as it had the only functioning VHS player I’ve seen in 10 years.

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Anyway, Whangarei is a picturesque enough town with cafes and souvenir shops. I managed to source a Kiwi charm for my bracelet and many other things to send home which I did at the post office in Whangarei town.

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There really isn’t a lot to do there though. I was in Whangarei simply because it is the main transit point before Tutukaka and Tutukaka is where you leave from to dive at the Poor Knights Islands.

My original plan was to do a live aboard trip but the weather scuppered that. Instead, I did a single day diving with Dive Tutukaka, possibly the nicest dive centre in the world. Firstly, every stupid question I posed via email or telephone was answered thoroughly and promptly by some of the friendliest staff I’ve ever encountered. Second, the dive boat (Bright Arrow) was great; It coped really well with some pretty choppy water. Third, the return shuttle from Whangarei to Tutukaka was very reasonable ($20 NZD). Fourth, the dive prices were very reasonable. Fifth, they provide pictures from the day free of charge via Facebook. Amazing!

Diving at the Poor Knights Island seems like it’s endless. On the dive boat there were 2 seriously experienced guys who had been diving over 20 years and they still haven’t been to all the sites at Poor Knights.

I had a lot to overcome on my 2 dives because it was cold water and I was in a full wetsuit. I’d never dived cold water before and never dived in a full suit, therefore, I struggled with buoyancy and body temperature. I did look like a superhero in the full suit though.

The first 5 minutes of my first dive (at Bird Rock) was spent hanging onto some kelp trying to sort my buoyancy out. I eventually got a handle on it and we set off. I saw the most beautiful school of pink maomao, many eels, scorpion fish, tonnes of nudibranchs and a plethora of more common fish. A superb dive that ended too soon. I enjoyed it.

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The second site (the Rock) felt better because I was used to the buoyancy change and borrowed some gloves to keep my hands warm. The marine life was superb as were the stunning kelp forests. The most unexpected treat for me was colouration seen on the rock faces. It ranged from black to lilac with blues, yellows and oranges in there too. Simply lovely. There were amazing overhangs which made me go ‘wow’. I had the pleasure of swimming against the flow of a large school which simply didn’t care I was there.

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Out of the water the view isn’t bad either. This is the highest rock arch in the southern hemisphere (I think).

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And this is just a wicked sail through cave thingy.

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Beautiful to look at and easy to marvel at how nature works. Don’t miss the Poor Knights if you’re in New Zealand.