The day after that scorching New Year's Day, we read in the paper that it was the 2nd hottest day in all of Sydney's history! 45 degrees celcius! That's 113 farenheit! In fact, the temperature had gone from 22C to 45C and back down to 22C in 24 hours. Unreal.
Anyway, January 2 was off to a good start with cool temperatures and our picking up the very first rental car of our young lives! We tried to book the cheapest option of course, so were surprised to get a V6 Toyota Avalon, a really nice car. Driving on the left took some thought at first but we were both fine at it, and the roads in Sydney are very civilized. We hit the road without much plan, and stopped at an excellent visitor's center about 2 hours south of the city. We picked up a map of nearby Booderee National Park which is on a peninsula and had some very nice trails. We did a two-hour walk which had awesome coastal views and varying vegetation. For the most part we had the trail all to ourselves, except for the hundreds of flies which bothered us relentlessly (you were right, Diana). We found it was better to just let them settle on our backs instead of constantly trying to swat them away only to have them swarm about our heads. Gross. Luckily, we did get to meet a wallaby and an echidna. Both are as common as deer in Australia, but Kate was still beaming for an hour.
We had thought about sleeping in the car, and seeing that the roomy Avalon would have been more comfortable than our Sydney hostel, the choice was obvious. So we headed further south for the town of Ulladulla which on the map appeared to have some green space (with toilets!) nearby. We scouted a few spots, and stopped at a 'carpark' overlooking a surf spot where there were a bunch of vans. We thought the people might be overnighters so we thought there would be safety in numbers and we gave it a shot. We immediately met a local (and his friendly dogs) who within three minutes said, "You'd be fine sleeping in the car but you can sleep at my place if you like." Garth had a very nice vibe and it was not hard to accept. His buddy Patrick (originally from Jersey, and a geographer) came out of the surf and somehow we all started talking about things geographical. Garth said, "Well after dinner tonight when we're hanging out we can have a look at the atlas." Kate had thought I was the only person in the world who did such things.
Garth's wife Martha was completely unfazed by his bringing home two yanks, and the two of them were wonderful people. They had a very comfortable home overlooking the sea full of candles, books on gardening and herbal healing, and buddha statues. They own a vegetarian cafe, and Garth made an amazing fish curry that we ate a lot of even though we had already eaten dinner. The two of them and Patrick are all seasoned travelers, and it was difficult to stop talking and go to bed.
Garth and Martha had to leave at 5:30 to open the cafe and they were fine to let us sleep and show ourselves out. They even put out breakfast for us! They had told us about Pretty Beach in nearby Murramarang National Park so we went there and were not disappointed. The beaches and rocks were amazing and incredibly quiet. There was one spot where the crashing surf moved polished stones against each other to create a fantastic sound. We stopped there for a bit and meditated. (We hardly ever do this and really would like to get into the habit.) We also went for a very nice walk in the 'bush' and Kate got to experience the wonderful smell of Aussie gum trees. It was a perfect morning. We stopped for lunch at their cafe which could not have been any more our style, and headed north for the airport.
One of the best parts of our little trip was the joy of passing through towns with names like Wollongong, Bombo, Bomaderry, Bewong, Yatte Yattah, Conjola, Mollymook (where Garth and Martha live), and Kioloa. Mixed in with all these are towns with English names like Milton, Jervis Bay, St. Georges Basin, and Falls Creek. Aussie place names are truly something else.
Our flight to Auckland was short and uneventful. We landed at around midnight so by the time we got to the hostel everyone was asleep and we had to settle in with flashlights. Fun. In the morning while tired and famished we got lost looking for the supermarket. At one point we said 'screw this' and went into a cafe to find muffins for $6. So, as hungry as we were, we said 'screw that' and eventually found it.
Auckland is a very pleasant city in an amazing natural setting complete with two big harbors and 48 dormant volcanoes, and has all the comforts of the West. But the city's architecture and general energy are completely unremarkable and two days here has been plenty. On Wednesday we went to the top of the Sky Tower for some great views. And yesterday we went to Mt. Eden for some more, to run into the ancient volcanic crater, and to meet some cows who seemed very out of place. I had been to both places when I was here three years ago and it was nice to visit them again and show them to Kate.
Soon we'll pick up our campervan, and on Saturday we'll dive at the Poor Knights Islands, another one of the world's top-ten sites. Please try not to hate us.
We have a phone! Unfortunately, calling from it is very expensive, but receiving calls is free for us (hint hint). If you do leave a message, please try to keep it brief because even checking voicemail is an absured per-minute rate. New Zealand is 18 hours ahead of the east coast. The country code is 64, and our number is 27-351-5991. We hope to hear from you!