Happy New Year everyone! Hope you all had good holidays. Our Christmas was very strange, but nice. The Christmas Eve party at our hotel was good for a few laughs as the staff tried in somewhat broken English to get all the Swedes (we were practically the only non-Scandanavians!) to play games and a band played elevator music. We did participate in the "Who can drink the beer the fastest" contest but we were beat out by, of course, a German and one of the many Swedes. Free beer, though, so we weren't complaining! Christmas day was sunny and beautiful and we spent much of it wandering on the beach and reading. It was odd to think of all the other Christmases we've been shivering! After another great day at the beach we said goodbye to Southeast Asia and flew to Bangkok and then to Sydney. We arrived early in the morning and were checked into our room at the hostel before 9. It was a bit of a shock to be back in the hostel way of life. Our room is not the cleanest and we have a roommate, for a price that would have gotten us a suite in Thailand! We spent our first day in Sydney wandering around and marveling at being back in the Western world, although we almost fainted when our fruit shakes that would have cost $1 at a beach shack in Thailand cost $5 at a fancy juice bar! We also spent a long time hanging out at the beautiful Botanic Gardens, which are right on the Harbor and have great views. Kate saw her first flying foxes, very weird but very neat huge bats that live in trees.
The next day, after a very late start due to our time change adjustment, we headed out for the Circular Quay and the Rocks, the historic and famous area on the Sydney Harbor. After wandering a bit we hopped on the ferry to Manly. The ride there took a half and hour and we only left the harbor in the last few minutes! It was really cool to get a feel for how incredibly huge the harbor is. Manly is a suburb of the city with a trendy downtown and a clearly upscale community. We walked past an INCREDIBLY crowded beach and found a quiet spot to watch the sea along a great bike path. The next day we attempted an early start but didn't quite make it once again! We finally made it back to the harbor and grabbed another ferry, this time to the Taronga Zoo. The zoo was fabulous. It's on a hill across from the downtown so we got great views of the city as we wandered around and met kangaroos, koalas, platypuses, wombats, dingos, kookaburra-the famous, cool, but rather odd wild animals of Australia.
Our New Year's Eve wasn't terribly rowdy but it was fun. We had a drink on the rooftop terrace of the hostel as we watched the 9 PM family fireworks show over the harbor. Then we headed down there to check out the festivities. There were tons of people there, many of whom had been sitting outside in the sweltering heat all day to reserve their spots on the grass! We found a corner at an outdoor beer garden instead and did some great people watching as we waited for midnight, and we even managed to chat with some cool Aussies. We caught only a glimpse of the midnight fireworks show (the price we paid for seeing the koalas instead of reserving a good spot!) and we walked with the sea of people through the city streets and back to the hostel. Today it is well over 100 degrees here, a record for New Year's Day! It is unbelievably hot, continuing the trend of odd weather that's been following us. But being the dedicated tourists we are, we still headed to walk the Harbor Bridge earlier today. Nice views of the city, worth it despite the heat. The only place we could think to go to escape the oven outside (and our hostel room with no fan!) was the movies. Apparently all of Sydney had the same idea! We saw 'Broken Flowers' which was very weird but kept us cool for a couple of hours at least. Overall we've really liked Sydney, it's a cool city with lots to do and the setting is really incredible. Of course part of our love might just be the availibility of sushi and Subway on every other block!
Tomorrow we pick up our rental car and drive a couple of hours south to check out some smaller beach towns for the night before we drive to the airport and head for Auckland on Tuesday.