In the Sticks

At first I was going to say in the bush, but learned that bush only applies to rural places with no buildings around whatsoever, and since I am in a house and there’s about 3 other houses nearby, my whereabouts qualifies as sticks. Australia I love your language.

Willy the koala
Willy the koala

I have been in the sticks, 26km from the town of Gympie, 2hrs north of Brisbane and an hour inland from Paradise Beach, for a week now. I returned from my New Zealand adventures a tad tired, and happy to be back in Oz. I have been taken good care of, fed well, and have just basically been taking it easy while contemplating my future, sorting out pictures, re-making my website and whatnot. The days have been filled with cooking and on the odd occasion we have ventured to the nearby creek to build a dam and side streams. Flashback to childhood.

Skilled fetcher
Skilled fetcher

One day we ventured out to the beach, which was amazing in the 30 degree heat. Swimming in rough waves, no sunburn and I drove a part of the drive out! What a lovely day, looking back on it. The only other occasion I’ve left the near vicinity of the house was yesterday, when I saw a real Aussie farm and met the lovely farmers (and their resident koala!).

King of the Hay
King of the Hay

It is always interesting to meet people from a completely different paths of life, and to learn about their lifestyle and motives behind their way of life. This couple was particularly friendly, and we got to do all the activities in few hours. Quad bike riding, climbing on haystacks, feeding piglets, shooting a revolver…now I can tick that Aussie experience off the list.

Billy the Kidd shootin' some balloons
Billy the Kidd shootin’ some balloons

Next destination: The Philippines sometime in March. Unless something crazy happens.

Wanaka and Franz Josef Glacier

From Queenstown I made my way to another lakeside town just few hours away, Wanaka, named conveniently after the lake Wanaka. Quite like Queenstown, Wanaka has some nice cafes and restaurants, but the activity offering is way lesser, which suited my sneezing and tired body rather well. Wanaka has grown exponentially in the recent years, and now it is a rather bustling little town, the gateway to Mt Aspiring National Park. Besides the gorgeous views (like everywhere), Wanaka offers options for water sports, skiing and scenic flights.

Le Wanaka beach.
Le Wanaka beach.

After checking in to my hostel (The Flying Kiwi, in case someone is looking to head that way) I took a little walk around town and sat by the lake for a bit, trying my best not to burn in the sun. In the afternoon I cooked some monster-resembling fish and fell asleep by the lake, deciding that maybe it was best I have an early night in. 8 people dorm and no snorers, WIN! The next morning after breakfast I dragged my overflowing backpack and bags to the bus towards Franz Josef.

Eager travelers waiting for their ride.
Eager travelers waiting for their ride.

The bus ride to Franz Josef took 6 hours, including two 30 minute breaks to a in-the-middle-of-nowhere-cafe and a salmon farm. Interesting stops, but not much to eat if you’re not into sandwiches and pies. In between appreciating the ever changing nature – from rough rocky terrain to lush rainforest to double tier forest to mountains, and the seaside with trees that grow in an angle – I dozed off between unconsciousness and the driver’s soft talk about why the trees grow in two layers and how it is not allowed to have the trees so close to the road as they at one point were. Beautiful drive, but I would have liked to have a pitstop in a place like Jones’ Fruit Farm, where we stopped on the way to Queenstown and to Wanaka.

New Zealanders wanted to save money way back when, and so the bridges are one lane only.
New Zealanders wanted to save money way back when, and so the bridges are one lane only.
Native bushes and trees living in harmony.
Native bushes and trees living in harmony.

I arrived in Franz Josef glacier town at 4, which left me plenty of time to find the hot pools I read about and have a proper soak. Franz Josef is way bigger than Mt. Cook, consisting of 1 main street and another street for mainly motels and backpackers’, several (pub/Asian) restaurants and glacier tour operators. I do kinda feel bad for not taking a helicopter ride (I’ve never been) to actually see the glacier, or do anything ice-related for that matter, but I didn’t feel like investing in such an experience, and opted for the pools in stead. 3 different pools, 36, 38 and 40C hot, just what one needs after a day on the bus sneezing. In the evening I went for a little walk to try and catch the sunset, but there was too much rainforest and mountains on my way. Another early night, luckily I fell asleep before the snoring begun. I woke up at 5, but managed to stay in bed for another few hours. Onwards to the longest leg of my journey, 10.5 hours on the bus! Apparently there’s one of the world’s most dramatic coastal roads on the way.

I expected to see him on the mountains.
I expected to see him on the mountains.

Holiday in Western Australia

It is self evident that I am an advocate of traveling. Having spent over half a year within the borders of Victoria (although there is heaps to see in the state alone), I figured that it would be nice to get around to see Australia a bit more, and most of all take a selfie with the world’s happiest animal, the quokka, who inhabits Rottnest Island just outside of Perth in Western Australia. Not too bad way of spending Christmas!

Quokkas having a sneaky snack.
Quokkas having a sneaky snack.

During my one week long getaway to Western Australia I learned that one should not travel during holiday season, if it is any way possible to be avoided. Somehow I did not think it would be that different, but as it turns out, rental car prices were triple to normal, and the accommodation availability everywhere south of Perth was non-existent. As one could imagine, having to pay extra for things and having a bit of a struggle to organise things doesn’t allow you to relax as you should on holidays. Therefore, from now on if I travel on holiday periods (which is very likely), I will try to book as much as possible in advance, and try not to move around as much. I shall embrace the fact that everything is closed on Christmas Day, and prepare myself to eating only nuts and crackers for a day.

Sunset at the Pinnacles
Sunset at the Pinnacles

The magnificent stone formations in Nambung National Park just a few hours drive North from Perth are rather magical for sunset, sunrise, full moon and any time it is not packed with tourists (go late or early and get the park for yourself!). These limestones that now poke out in the sandy desert were once seashells in the water, which were broken into sand and blown inland, forming oddly dunes. Since the 1960s, these rocks attract over 250 thousand tourists a year. The pinnacles are pretty much in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by ghostly small towns, but if you want to get them at their best, you should sacrifice one night for the trip. On the way to the pinnacles from Perth, Yanchep National Park makes a good pit stop.

Fremantle, or Freo, looks quite like New Orleans.
Fremantle, or Freo, looks quite like New Orleans.

I fell in love with the relaxed seaside small town atmosphere of Fremantle, just twenty minutes outside of Perth. The architecture is beautiful, there are loads of restaurants and small shops, and the weekend market is lovely. When visiting Freo, I would recommend eating seafood at Kailas fish and chips, right by the pier. And of course Rottnest island and aforementioned quokkas are a must!

Like being on a tropical island
Rottnest, like a tropical island
Busselton jetty at dawm, when the tourists are gone and the fishermen are enjoying the peace and quiet.
Busselton jetty at dawm, when the tourists are gone and the fishermen are enjoying the peace and quiet.

When going south of Perth, there are plenty of small towns, beaches, and all kinds of (mostly marine life) activities along the way to Margaret River, the promised land of wine, local delicacies and products. Busselton, with the longest wooden jetty in the Southern Hemisphere (whoa!), is a nice town to stop and take a stroll 2kms out to the sea and maybe a sneaky plunge in to the water, too.

A jetty so long it has a train.
A jetty so long it has a train.

Margaret River is rather nice, if you like wineries, beaches and such (who doesn’t?), but during the holiday season it is crammed and the atmosphere is very touristic. On another occasion it might show a completely different side, but for now I can say that I am glad I went, and I was glad to be back in Melbourne.

Byron Bay

Before even leaving to Oz, I knew I wanted to set my base in either Melbourne or Byron Bay, the Canggu of Australia where high vibes and high fives are aplenty, organic food abundant and surfers and hippies happy together. I made my way to Byron from Brissie (Brisbane), and am now experiencing the similar unbearable lightness of being that I experienced in Bali a bit over half year ago.

Byron Bay is located north from Sydney, 2 hours south from Brisbane and an hour away from Gold Coast, making it the perfect stop for backpackers traveling the east coast. Since the 1980’s the number of visitors has roamed year after year, and I have to admit that I consider myself lucky visiting during the quietest time of year; there’s still plenty of people around.

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I have not surfed (yet), and to be honest it is a good question to think what the heck have I been doing with my time. I don’t have a good book to read, I have not got my tan on, and the only touristic thing I’ve done was kayaking with dolphins.

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Kayaking in the sea was great itself, but seeing heaps of dolphins playing around made the experience even better. I learned a bit of the history of this region and some mythology of dolphins, and it was good to know we were not disturbing the animals in their home.

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Besides dolphins, I’ve enjoyed the most beautiful sunsets I’ve seen in a good while. I also saw a pretty damn good sunrise from the easternmost point of Australia.

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Besides great scenery and good food (in theory, I mostly make cheap meals at the hostel), Byron has somewhat of a nightlife scene going on. Still need to explore that beyond bonfires at the beach tho.

Best of Hong Kong

Everything good ends at some point. I have now been away from Finland for almost a year, living in another continent, speaking different languages and doing many things I could or would not do in Finland. Now it’s time to say hello to Finland for a while. Here are some of my favorites from the past 4 months.

Nature.

There is much more to the city than just skyscrapers
There is much more to the city than just skyscrapers

It is unbelievable how much more there is to Hong Kong than just millions of people cramped in narrow streets between tall buildings. One can easily find amazing nature, from mountains to beaches and natural reservoirs, even in Hong Kong island!

Atmosphere.

Perfect Sunday: Relaxing at the East Island Markets
Perfect Sunday: Relaxing at the East Island Markets

By far, my most favorite place in Hong Kong was the Sunday market in Quarry Bay. The market is closed down for the summer, but will return again in September. I wish there was something like this in Finland – this farmer’s market really reminded me of New York!

Events.

Perfect Tuesday night: art, bubbly and nibbles
Perfect Tuesday night: art, bubbly and nibbles

There is always something interesting going on, whether it is an art gallery opening, birthday party or pop-up store. The only thing is to know where, when and what is happening.

Random statues.

Teddies in Heritage shopping area
Teddies in Heritage shopping area

HK is a huge shopping mall. Usually the malls have huge, quite random statues, that change almost monthly. Often the motifs of the statues are rather interesting, and worth taking a picture (or two).

Random street art.

Noodle time!
Noodle time!

Rather than ugly tags, one can encounter rather interesting pieces of art from the streets and alleyways. Tin Hau and Sheung Wan are the best bet for finding something interesting.

Fruit selection.

Sousop and something else
Sousop and something else

The amount, quality and price of fruit in Hong Kong came like a gift from heaven, after being seriously fruit-deprived in Japan. Here I have eaten tons of various fruit every day: lately especially mangos, since they are ridiculously cheap and usually sold cheaper if you buy 3 or 4. Other than mangos, I’ve been enjoying papayas, pineapple, some durian, mangosteens, dragonfruit, melons and the conventional apples, grapefruits, kiwi and oranges. Time for some Finnish berries!

Coffee culture.

Teakha in Sheung Wan
Teakha in Sheung Wan

Little coffeeshops offering top quality coffee blends and single-origin beans are popping up around the city, and there are several companies offering coffee tastings and other events. In stead of the Pacific Coffees and Starbucks in practically every corner, some of the best places to get your fix are: Coffee Academics (Causeway Bay), Coffee Corridor (Causeway Bay), Common Ground (Sheung Wan), Barista Jam (Sheung Wan), The Rabbit Hole (Wan Chai) and those moving coffee companies that frequent for example the East Island Market: 8 Grams and Moving Coffee, for example.

Food.

Delicious Chinese vegetarian cuisine, mostly with mushrooms
Delicious Chinese vegetarian cuisine, mostly with mushrooms

There is abundance of international food in Hong Kong. My favorite restaurant is Mana!, which serves organic, vegan and gluten-free wraps and salads as well as raw desserts and smoothies. Besides Mana, there are few vegetarian restaurant, and plenty of Chinese vegetarian cuisine (which is textured soy and often rather slimy to my taste). Sushi buffets are aplenty and affordable, Western food is more expensive than Asian. The Asian desserts were also rather interesting, maybe I’ll dedicate another post to that.
Mostly I cooked myself: various mushrooms and sweet potatoes were my favorites. I did try veggie dumplings on few occasions, but most Chinese restaurants had meat in their dishes even if it is not announced in the menu.

Transportation.

Back to the old times
Back to the old times

I definitely am a walker, but when you need a different means of transportation, there’s plenty to choose from. My favorite would be the Star Ferry to Kowloon side – fresh air, nice views and less crowded than the mtr. MTR is by far the fastest way of getting from A to B, but sometimes you want to relax and watch the hustle and bustle; the old-fashioned tram is perfect for that. The double-decker buses can sometimes feel like being on a theme park ride, since the drivers are rallying like on a race. The taxi isn’t a bad option, either: super cheap and easy to catch – the only problem might be the language barrier. I would not bike in Hong Kong island, but in Shatin there is even a bike route!

These are just a few things I will definitely miss from Hong Kong. I could also list the great people and sports opportunities (mYoga with it’s views to Victoria Harbor, oh man). What are your favorites?